Why Chicago has turned into a war zone
In the beginning of the summer, ESSENCE.com spoke to Phillip Jackson founder of the Black Star Project, a community outreach group in Chicago.
In the beginning of the summer, ESSENCE.com spoke to Phillip Jackson founder of the Black Star Project, a community outreach group in Chicago. We talked about the increasing number of shootings that were directly affecting Black communities throughout the city. Now that summer is almost over, it seems like things have only gotten worse. Just this past weekend, six people were shot while they stood in front of a church mourning the death of a loved one. Last week, a young woman was mistakenly shot in the head during a drive-by, and there are multiple other examples of young people being mowed down all over Chicago. ESSENCE.com went back to Jackson, who sees first-hand the impact the violence is having on Black families, to ask, is there is any hope in sight to save Black folks from guaranteed self-destruction?
ESSENCE.COM: Things seem to be getting worse in Chicago since we last spoke?
JACKSON: Yes, usually the month of July is known as what we call “hell month” or the deadliest month of the year. School is out, the weather is hot, people are unemployed—it’s the culmination of all the things that are wrong and bad happening now. Now, we’re not just reporting shootings, we’re reporting multiple shootings at least once a week where six or seven people are shot at one time. There was one day last week when 15 people were shot. The only thing that the city, state and the White House have said is that they want to put more police on the streets. These young people could care less whether there are 1,000 police officers or 100,000 police officers on the streets.
ESSENCE.COM: What would you like to see President Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder do instead?
JACKSON: We would like to see the White House pay attention to the recommendations laid out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that if you want to prevent violence you have to rebuild families. As families break down, communities degenerate into chaos. These young boys out here look up to killers, thugs, and gangsters. Until the government becomes involved in the process of ensuring that strong, positive caring men are in their lives, they cannot break the cycle of violence. Plus, you have to reach these kids early. You can’t wait until they are 14 years old. That’s too late. Teach them conflict-resolutions skills when they’re 3 years old. Lastly, we at Black Star Project are in the streets talking to these kids. They tell us if we had economic alternatives, we wouldn’t have to engage in this violence. The police are still operating with that 1960’s way of attacking the gang problem while the gangs are operating today.
ESSENCE.COM: Exactly how do you start rebuilding strong families and communities when people are afraid of their own children and unable or unwilling to be parents?
JACKSON: That’s why I’m asking the federal government for help. There are two models for ending violence. There is the L.A. model where they hire more police, give them bigger guns and helicopters and basically turn the communities into a war zones. Then there is the Boston model where they improved social services and connections to education and jobs. That model reduced violence. This is a choice our country has to make. Right now, we’re choosing the L.A. model. When we decide we want to do something, there is nothing that can stop us as a country. We wanted to go to Iraq and spend a billion dollars a day and we did it. I’m saying the same resolve needs to be put on fixing the problems in Black communities across America. I voted for President Obama, but I’m going to continue to challenge him. We need to demand an appropriate response from the White House to the violence in our communities.
ESSENCE.COM: Are you saying it’s up to the Obama administration to fix the Black family?
JACKSON: The only people who can fix the Black family are Black men and Black women, but the government can provide resources that can encourage us to fix it. We know finances and economics is part of the problem. They can provide major financial incentives for Black families to come together. We need to have public policies that will support that kind of behavior.
ESSENCE.COM: Over 500 schoolchildren in Chicago were shot and at least 36 died during the last school year. You mentioned before that kids in Chicago feel hopeless and angry. Has the “Obama effect” and knowing there is now an African-American president had any impact on them at all?
JACKSON: Do you know what seeing your friend shot does to the spirit of a child? You go into any first- and second-grade classroom in Chicago and ask, “Do you know anyone who has been shot?” They will all raise their hand. It’s great for us to have a Black president, but it was short lived for these kids. His being President has done nothing for them. There is a psychological and emotional boost but they have gone right back to their reality of having to claw their way through every day. They don’t need a moral boost. They need strategies that are going to improve the lives of Black families.