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America: Chicago Shows that the Price We Pay for Segregation is Too High

By Jessyca Dudley | @shewhoeatsmud | with NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Saturday, June 30, 2018.

The recent shooting death of YouTube star Zack Stoner highlights a troubling reality of being black and brown while striving in Chicago. The 30-year-old known for being the ’hood CNN joins the list of “lost but not forgotten” Facebook tribute pages that invite comfort to those celebrating yet another life lost on city streets. Whether virtual or real, like the 500 stone markers displayed by Kids Off the Block, a program that reorients at-risk children, these memorials are a ubiquitous reminder of concentrated violence faced by a handful of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

For a while now, violence in Chicago has negatively affected certain communities, particularly poor ones. We have poured money into understanding why violence happens to some and not others and why some young people are willing to pick up a gun, while others are picking up a camera, a pen or a ball, redirecting their energies to more positive pursuits when they can. We know a lack of jobs, inferior (and dirty) schools, trauma, and interactions with cops and courts contribute to a person’s involvement with gun violence.

The root causes of gun violence are well documented, yet we have put little effort into addressing the tie that binds them: segregation.  

Nearly 85 years after passage of the National Housing Act, designed to make housing more available to low- and middle-income families, we find ourselves increasingly aware of practices that have worked to keep the African-American community confined to neighborhoods where services are limited, transportation difficult to access and mortgages unattainable. These are neighborhoods where people clearly eat every day but can’t draw viable grocery stores. It’s where talented kids in marginalized areas must trek across town to get a quality education. The enduring impact of redlining and unfair lending practices has taken its toll on the health, safety and economic comfort of not only African-American communities —‑ but all residents.

A new equity and inclusion report by the Metropolitan Planning Council lays it out plain and simple: With some of the highest levels of segregation in the nation, Chicago has squandered opportunities to improve the economic well-being, educational attainment and safety of residents by failing to address segregation.

The follow up to its groundbreaking 2017 Cost of Segregation report shows our willful disregard for ending this phenomenon has stopped billions of dollars from entering the economy, kept thousands from attaining bachelor’s degrees and cost the lives of hundreds of promising Chicagoans who were the victims of homicides.  

“We all share the costs when our justice system is colorblind to an infrastructure built on race and class,” according to the new report.

The price we pay for segregation is too high.

In 2016, when the violence epidemic was at its peak, 762 Chicagoans lost their lives and drove national attention to the policies, institutions and organizations responsible for maintaining safety. Imagine for a moment, if instead of continuing practices that segregated our communities, the city had bought and repurposed vacant buildings like Cincinnati, invested in quality education programs like Atlanta, or improved housing options for low-income residents like Baltimore. Could we have saved the lives of these Chicagoans?

The council’s report says, “yes.”

If, in 2016, Chicago had reduced its level of economic and racial segregation to the median level of cities in our nation – there would have been 229 fewer homicides.

Chicago’s civic and governmental leadership has dedicated ceaseless energy to exploring causes and solutions to gun violence. These solutions often focus on the supply-side of the issue by addressing where the guns come from, rather than the demand-side by addressing why people are seeking to own a gun.

It is well understood the sheer number of guns and easy availability drive gun violence: The Chicago Police Department recovers more guns than any police department in the United States. The Combatting Illegal Gun Traffic Act, a bipartisan attempt to enact legislation to license gun dealers that was vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in the weeks after the deadly Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, is critical but will not address the lack of jobs and educational opportunities driving gun violence in our communities.  

Stoner will be mourned because of his good nature and visible attempts at crafting a well-rounded narrative of Chicago that shows how all our communities contribute to the ideal of being a world-class city. It has become increasingly clear that without a clear and compelling agenda for addressing racial equity and racial segregation, we may succeed in taking more guns off the street but won’t address the cause of violence in the first place.


Jessyca Dudley, a BMe Public Voices Fellow, is an adviser to the Community Justice Reform Coalition, a Washington-based organization that advocates for evidence-based policies and programs to prevent gun violence and supports criminal justice reform in urban communities of color.

America: Chicago Shows that the Price We Pay for Segregation is Too High

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