Not only do we all live here, the powers that be need to remember that we all deserve to live here safely.
Not only do we all live here, the powers that be need to remember that we all deserve to live here safely. Credit: Brandi Ibrao / Unsplash

A few days after the city finally got around to releasing the horrific video of a police officer shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo, Mayor Lightfoot called for Chicago to come together and rally around her plan.

“We failed Adam,” Lightfoot wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “I know we must take it to fuel our commitment to police accountability and transparency, and to investing in young people in our Black and Brown communities who for too long haven’t been supported by their government.”

Well, better late than never, I suppose. About a year and a half ago, the mayor and her backers were singing a different tune.

That was the fall of 2019, when the teachers went on strike demanding that Lightfoot and her school appointees contractually agree to hire more nurses, social workers, and librarians, which would be more or less a direct investment in long-ignored Black and Brown communities.

The official reaction from Mayor Lightfoot and her editorial and corporate enablers went a little like: Shut up. Take your pay raise. And get back in those classrooms. If we wanted your opinion, we’d ask for it.

Oh, Chicago, you’re never going to change—are you?

With the Toledo killing we’re going through another one of those spasms of conscience that hits us from time to time—generally, after a horrific crime—as we consider the big issues. What to do about crime, policing, inequities, and so forth.

Then after much soul-searching, we generally go back to business as usual. Which means, among other things . . .

Pouring billions into gentrifying neighborhoods so we can move more poor people out. A policy we’ve been following since roughly the early 1970s.

Segregating people by class and race. But especially race. God forbid Black and white students go to the same schools.

That way people will never have to confront the biases and prejudices they have against one another. And then we act surprised when cops shoot Black or Brown people, even ones who have their hands raised in the air.

It also means trying to “control” crime by containing it in a handful of low-income communities. A policy Mayor Rahm sorta bragged about when he told young professionals at Stanford not to believe stories about the dangers of Chicago. ’Cause the shootings were in only a handful of communities they’d probably never go to. 

I don’t know why we’re surprised by the violence. We’ve always been a violent city. Got this bizarre attraction to tough guys and gangsters, going back to Al Capone.

We certainly don’t take well to people preaching peace and love. When Martin Luther King Jr. came to town in the 60s, he got hit in the head with a rock. That showed him for pushing integration and equity.

By and large, Chicagoans favor a more retaliatory approach to conflict resolution. You hit me? I’ll hit you back harder. Hence our masochistic affinity for tough mayors who know how to “get things done.”

We had one brief moment when we elected Harold Washington—with white people kicking and screaming every step of the way—dedicated to more equitably slicing the economic development pie.

So that Black people got more than the crumbs.

In 1987, Washington died of a heart attack, and it was like all over town, you could hear white residents sigh and say—thank god that’s over. Then they elected (and reelected, and reelected, and reelected, and reelected) Mayor Daley, a man who seemed determined to undo whatever progress Washington had made.

Might as well remind you, again, that Mayor Daley’s great invention, Chicago’s TIF program, takes property taxes intended to eradicate blight in poor communities and mostly spends it in rich ones.

I realize that by pointing this out, I will, again, be written off as a harmless gadfly. But look on the bright side—at least they’re not hitting me in the head with a rock.

Every now and then some leftist activists will advocate a local Marshall Plan, where we channel our resources to the poorest neighborhoods and people that need help the most. And they’re immediately written off as anti-development flunkies for the radical Chicago Teachers Union.

Isn’t that funny—the loudest voice for more fairly splitting up the pie is the union that mainstream Chicago has been conditioned to despise.

Speaking of teachers . . .

I have a dear friend, Randy Bates, who’s a retired English teacher from Lane Tech College Prep High School. One day years ago, when stories about declining enrollment in our city’s public schools filled the papers, Randy and I got together for breakfast. As we drank our coffee and ate our eggs, Randy exclaimed that this was the perfect opportunity to head in the opposite direction.

If you have schools with fewer students, you can offer more services to the children you have. Instead of closing schools, we should turn them into community centers. Keep them open day and night. We can have preschool programs. After-school programs. Intramurals. Art classes. Theater.

Oh, man, if Randy called the shots.

Naturally, Chicago being Chicago, we didn’t do any of those things. Mayor Rahm’s political operatives paid homeless people to show up at community meetings and call on CPS to close more schools. So the board could say—we’re only doing what the people wanted. And Rahm wound up closing 50 schools.

Hey, lefties—say what you will about Mayor Lightfoot, but she hasn’t done that. In Chicago, we call that progress.

In a related matter, there’s this recent story by David Roeder in the Sun-Times about the One Central project. That’s a proposal to take hundreds of millions of public dollars that might otherwise go to neglected communities and use them to underwrite a project that would further gentrify the South Loop.

It’s not clear that One Central—delayed by the pandemic—has the political support it needs. But as Roeder points out—if this developer “can’t do it, someone else will in time. The profit hunt outlasts any state or city administration.”

And so, the plan continues . . .  v