I attended a meeting held on the West Side of Chicago a few weeks ago. Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin was a member of a panel invited to speak and hear concerns from a town-hall type of audience regarding the Laquan McDonald video. What should the next step be? It was clear to me from the comments that the Chicago community’s people of color were fearful, angry and distrustful of police, especially white police and the tragic patterns of police homicide on its youthful citizens.
There are larger overarching themes and root problems facing racially segregated urban neighborhoods entrenched in poverty.
Here are two themes that need attention:
1. Black-on-black violence is epidemic in Chicago. Possible solutions and interventions take second seat to the chaos generated by emotional outrage. It has become prevalent to handle all actions with punitive retribution, vigilantism, or settle for a Draconian police state. Couple that with the ambivalence that spawns white mainstream/society backlash masked by apathy representing a rhetoric-only reply. Cooler heads prevailed at the meeting that night where a stand was made to listen, find out and ask for solutions and relief from those most affected.
2. Gun control to diminish lethal weaponry from getting into the hands of gang-bangers, psychotic criminals and terrorists. This is a public management strategy that is useless unless the root problems get addressed simultaneously. While this gun debate seems to go on forever, while the endless political tug of war goes on, while talking only and no collective action goes on, lives are being lost; a whole generation of young people is at risk, so I am offering one plausible pragmatic intervention.
In the most affected and suffering areas, extend the public school day by one hour. Schools historically have been a safe haven for kids and teens, but if the infrastructure exists, and reuse of public buildings can be made sustainable, why not use them? Community schools are assets to the public and a potential public space. If any local schools are under Title One appropriations, an extension can be coupled to accommodate after-school dinner or lunch. Include all the local faith organizations and after-school groups and invite them to include their venues. Rather than looking at it as a cost burden. Look at it as a way to offset the costs as an investment that generates social capital and savings, creating a social safety net for children.
These places cannot become gloomy, jail-like refugee centers. Volunteering personnel to supervise the open locations that can provide services and relief to our at-risk youth must be populated by police practicing community policing, educators, parents, social workers, universities, the private sector, and even millennials who have sincerely practiced civil disobedience have a role. All can collectively help and mentor these public safe havens.