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August 25, 2012 3:21 PM Chicago: Murder, Inc. USA (but it doesn’t have to be)

By Kathleen Geier

From my hometown of Chicago comes the sobering news that the epidemic of gun violence continues unabated. The murder rate here currently is 28% higher than what it was at this time last year. On Thursday night, 19 people in the city were victims of gun violence; last night, an additional 17 people were shot, 4 of them fatally.

The reasons for the dramatic spike in gun violence have been debated; surely the fact that this is a city, where, it is said, you can get your hands on a gun “as quick as you can get a burger at a fast-food restaurant” has something to do with it. Experts seem to believe that gang wars are the major culprit, though in a sense that merely begs the question as to why gangs are so much more firmly entrenched here than in, say, New York.

Politically, gun control efforts seem to be off the table, at least for now, and that of course is a national tragedy. But fortunately, there are other tools that have been proven to be effective in ameliorating the gun violence problem. Recently, my friend Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago, co-directed a rigorous, large-scale study of a violence prevention program for at-risk youth in the Chicago Public Schools. The program consisted of mentoring and group counseling, and by the end of the study program participants

showed a 44 percent decrease in violent crime arrests during the intervention. Participating youth also became more engaged with school — an impact that grew even larger in the year after the program ended.

Sometimes, social programs that initially appear to effective never live up to their early promise, because they end up being too expensive, or too difficult to replicate. But according to Pollack, that does not appear to be true of this program. He says that this program “remarkable” due to its “relatively limited number of contact hours, its scalability, and the relatively low cost”:

On average, each program participant had about 13 contact hours with the program. Because it was developed as a manualized intervention, the program can be replicated and brought to scale fairly easily.

One piece of good news here is that Pollack and his colleagues have received additional funding to expand the program. The bad news, however, is that, sadly, violence prevention programs are clearly not priority for the Emanuel administration, which continues, even in the midst of this violence epidemic, to subject such programs with the austerity axe. (I have an extensive grudge list of reasons why Mayor Emanuel is unbeloved of me and this is definitely one of them).

Hopefully, though, the word will get out about these programs, and they will eventually be fine-tuned and funded to scale, so that they can achieve maximum effectiveness. In the meantime, I strongly recommend that anyone who interested either in this subject or in film check out the recent documentary, The Interrupters, which was made by Steve James’ Kartemquin films (of Hoop Dreams fame), and which looks at a different gang intervention anti-violence program in Chicago, one in which former gang members themselves do the intervening. It’s a gut-wrenching, deeply sad, and extraordinarily powerful film that tells a great, and shamefully neglected, American story, and does it brilliantly. You won’t soon forget the three former gang members the film profiles, each one of them alone worthy of a novel. The film broke box office records when it played at theaters in Chicago last year, and no wonder — it was one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in many a year. See it, and you’ll have a sense of the enormity of the problem we’re up against. You’ll also be moved by the many brave and dedicated people who are struggling so desperately to turn things around.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on August 25, 2012 6:33 PM:

    Conservative POV:

    The answer to one group of young Nigrah's shooting another group of young Nigrah's, or old Nigrah's, now that we think about it, for that matter, is not to be dissuaded - but encouraged!
    This program needs to be extended to every urban environment.

    And as much as we tell everyone we don't believe in Darwin and "Evolution," we do appreciate the fact that these violent brown chromosomes will not be able to replicate, and create another generation of "Brown Bombers' and shooters.

    Now, if only we could say the same thing about the Kardashian's!
    They're not really quite, "WHITE," are they?

    "Gun control" begins at home.
    So shoot the motherfecker in your house who mentions it!

  • bleh on August 25, 2012 7:08 PM:

    Sadly, there are a lot of people who indeed will see this as just-more-tax-money-wasted-on-THOSE-people and thus another source of ever-smoldering resentment.

    And they will be encouraged in this by the snake-oil salesmen who will happly repurpose said tax money to enriching themselves and their already staggeringly wealthy friends.

    But we're a post-racial society, and anyone who says otherwise is the REAL racist!

  • jjm on August 25, 2012 7:24 PM:

    Could someone -- if there is a real sociologist left out there in the country -- do a study of gun ownership as correlated with the feeling of powerlessness in other areas of life?

    I feel pretty sure that the more people feel utterly impotent to control their lives, their finances, their social situations, the more they would look to the gun as an 'equalizer' even if only in their fantasies.

  • bleh on August 25, 2012 7:59 PM:

    "Impotent"? "Fantasies"?

    Is this what they mean by, "heh, indeed"?

    As to a study, I would expect it to be difficult indeed, due to strong bias on the part of the subjects.

    "Would you say your weapon makes you feel less insecure?"

    "How much do you fear the world, and would you say your weapon helps with that?"

    "Which would you prefer, that someone took all your guns away, or cut off your penis"?

    Perhaps the investigators should be armed...

  • JR on August 25, 2012 9:12 PM:

    Actually, Mayor Emanuel wants to give $1 million to CeaseFire - the group featured in The Interrupters - but they've yet to participate. CeaseFire won't help out until they receive assurances that their members won't be required to be police informants. Meanwhile, gun violence continues to skyrocket.
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-cease-fire-20120814,0,4214943.story

  • Anonymous on August 25, 2012 9:17 PM:

    Thank you KG for noting our work!

  • emjayay on August 25, 2012 11:01 PM:

    SPAM ALERT 8:35 PM: HOW DOES THIS SHIT GET PAST CAPTCHA?WHY IS IT STILL THERE TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER?

  • emjayay on August 25, 2012 11:28 PM:

    Screw the programs. What is the root cause of gangs and the resulting violence?

    First, the multigenerational social disfunction created by concentrating the least successful in society in housing projects. No fathers, mothers who raise children with abuse rather than loving intimacy. Then adolescence strikes.

    I know, gross generalisation but guess what, there's a lot to it. I've seen it over and over. My research, most recently: riding subways in NYC with riders from housing projects, and also immigrant riders who wouldn't live there (much like you wouldn't) even though they are living with family including often grandparents in an apartment costing multiples of what they could qualify for in public housing.

    Second, creating a business model of selling illegal drugs enabling huge profits for people willing to ignore laws, and in a social situation that condones it.

    Gangs are extremely lucrative small businesses/social constructs based on these two basic factors.

    The solution? Not, I'm sorry to say, various programs of midnight basketball and parenting classes and other interventions. The real radical solution is getting rid of housing projects, including ones built recently that don't look that much like housing projects, and legalising recreational drugs.

    The substitute? Much higher minimum wage, income support, taxing capital gains/investment/derivative income etc. exctly the same as other income, free higher education, largely tax based health care like in every other comprable country, etc.

    Not anything that's likely to happen anytime soon, but the real kinds of solutions to gun violence and pervasive social disfunction in our country.

  • emjayay on August 25, 2012 11:30 PM:

    Screw the programs. What is the root cause of gangs and the resulting violence?

    First, the multigenerational social disfunction created by concentrating the least successful in society in housing projects. No fathers, mothers who raise children with abuse rather than loving intimacy. Then adolescence strikes.

    I know, gross generalisation but guess what, there's a lot to it. I've seen it over and over. My research, most recently: riding subways in NYC with riders from housing projects, and also immigrant riders who wouldn't live there (much like you wouldn't) even though they are living with family including often grandparents in an apartment costing multiples of what they could qualify for in public housing.

    Second, creating a business model of selling illegal drugs enabling huge profits for people willing to ignore laws, and in a social situation that condones it.

    Gangs are extremely lucrative small businesses/social constructs based on these two basic factors.

    The solution? Not, I'm sorry to say, various programs of midnight basketball and parenting classes and other interventions. The real radical solution is getting rid of housing projects, including ones built recently that don't look that much like housing projects, and legalising recreational drugs.

    The substitute? Much higher minimum wage, income support, taxing capital gains/investment/derivative income etc. exctly the same as other income, free higher education, largely tax based health care like in every other comprable country, etc.

    Not anything that's likely to happen anytime soon, but the real kinds of solutions to gun violence and pervasive social disfunction in our country.

  • emjayay on August 25, 2012 11:33 PM:

    Sorry for the duplicate post. Battling Captcha five or six times. No idea why it told me I failed despite actually posting my comment.

  • emjayay on August 25, 2012 11:41 PM:

    I've posted comments similar to the above previously. No one has ever argued or even commented one way or another.

    Seriously, I don't get it. I don't thing this sort of stuff is somehow beneath even contempt. C'mon people, I expect more of you. Anyone?

  • c u n d gulag on August 26, 2012 8:02 AM:

    emjayay,
    The problem isn't housing projects, and who does, or doesn't, live in them.

    And there have always been gangs in NY City - same as in any geographic area with a large population.
    Young people who feel they have something in common, will always band together - either for good - or ill. And, some will become elders who train the next generation.

    The problem has always been this:
    Do people feel that they will get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work?
    Enough not to merely exist, but to 'live?'
    And do they get some hope for a better tomorrow?

    Without those, a lot of people don't give a sh*t - black, white, red, yellow, young, old, green, whatever.

    If taking a drink, or using or selling drugs, or stealing, or f*cking-around wantonly, make a person feel better today, then, without hope of a better tomorrow, they'll do it.
    What the f*ck do they have to lose?

    What difference is there between a prison cell with bars, from the prison cell that is their "house" - which never quite feels like a "home?"

    The inner city kid from a housing complex who tries heroin in NY City or Chicage, is only different from the kid who lives in a run-down house, and seeks his/her escape through meth.
    Only the shading is different.

    Neither may come from a 2-parent home, or one of them, or both of them.
    They may live with other relatives, or friends of a parent.
    All that matters is, if the adults around them feel no hope for tomorrow, how can we expect the kid to?

    Thrills, either through drugs, booze, sex, or crime, is a way to feel SOMETHING. ANYTHING!
    Today.
    Tomorrow is its own potential nightmare, so tomorrow can wait. Today is all that's guaranteed. Let me "live" it now!

    If companies paid a living wage, and people could earn something beyond the mere assurance of surviving today, then we would all be better off. Tomorrow might not look as bleak as today.

    Instead, the better-off want to be even 'betterer'-off.

    And they don't care about the costs to society.

    They may learn a hard lesson one day, when those costs come in the form of an IOU - as in - IOU F*CKING NOTHING, because YOU GAVE ME F*CKING NOT ONE THING!!!

    And if/when that day comes, there'll be Hell to pay.

    Btw - I'd be interested to see how those last few sentences look in 18th Century French.

  • jjm on August 26, 2012 10:59 AM:

    To bleh: I don't mean you need to study the gangsters using the guns in violent acts. I mean you need to study ordinary, everyday Americans who resist any form of gun control that might keep these WMDs out of the hands of gangsters.

    Believe me, if there was even a tiny chance that possessing a gun might free the person from 'government interference' -- if some kind of armed rebellion such as many fantasize were actually possible, those guns would disappear overnight.

  • DJ on August 26, 2012 12:10 PM:

    Poor headline to the post.

    "Murder Inc." was the name of the subgroup of organized crime hired or tasked to do the killing.

    A better title would be "Murder City, USA."

  • Objective Dem on August 26, 2012 1:25 PM:

    emjayay,

    I have a couple of reasons for the lack of responses. One is you posted at 11:30 pm on Saturday night and most policy wonks are out dancing at raves. Second, Captcha discourages people from commenting.

    Overall I think CundGulag, as usual, did a great job in responding.

    I think you put too much emphasis on the idea of public housing concentrating the poor. Public Housing has changed a lot in the past twenty years in Chicago with high-rises torn down and strict rules on who can live there. Unfortunately, the problem is bigger and relates too the concentration of poor in different neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have poor schools, few job opportunities, and a culture of poverty.

    New York City has a large percentage of public housing buildings than other cities, but overall they are considered successful because they have a mix of income groups. Los Angeles has much fewer public housing complexes and more Section 8 housing than other cities, but it still has serious gang problems.

    My understanding is crime is actually down in Chicago from past years. It is an issue because the media is focusing on the issue. (Kind of like shark attacks become news for a season and then you never hear them reported again.) Part is in response to local politics and the desire to move police from low crime areas to high crime areas. Part is in response to the Police saying their aren't enough Police. I'm not saying its not a problem, but just that the problem is not escalating out of control as it is being portrayed.

  • Objective Dem on August 26, 2012 1:30 PM:

    One word of caution about using ex-gang members to fight gangs and violence. I spoke with people who worked on a similar program in the late 1980s in Chicago. One reason the program was ended was the "ex-gang members" were still gang members and utilized the program as a way to earn some money while recruiting new gang members.

    The best approach I have heard for fighting gangs and violence is identifying high risk youth and providing theme with additional services and creating job opportunities for everyone.

  • Objective Dem on August 26, 2012 1:37 PM:

    I agree with DJ's comment. Murder Inc. is a reference to organized crime and hit men. This is completely different.

    My understanding is part of the problem is the gang leadership is largely in prison. The leadership use to keep the violence down because it was bad for business (scares away customers, attracts police). Now you have the factions within the gangs fighting to see who can be the top dog. If they win, they can become rich (which they can't by dealing on a corner). If they lose, they die and they don't care because they don't think they have a viable future.

    Legalizing in a controlled manner could help. But improving education and getting job opportunities is more important.

  • emjayay on August 26, 2012 10:13 PM:

    Well, finally.

    Objective Dem, I meant that I've posted similar comments a number of times here or at AmericaBlog with no responses ever. Of course at any blog like this pretty soon any post or comment drifts off into the pages of the past, sometimes unfortunately, and that's the end of the discussion.

    Excellent points everyone, but I continue to think that the concentration of the more disfunctional in housing projects, no matter how townhousey the new developments look, is an important part of continuing disfunction of segments of American society. Like everyone has said here, not the whole cause, but an important amplifier of everything else.

    I've lived in the unfashionable totally unhipster southern part of Brooklyn for eight years. (Unlike say the South Bronx, in Brooklyn it's actually just neighborhood names). I taught school in San Francisco previously, in various schools with kids from all segments of society.

    Humans are very flexible social animals who learn to act and think and see things based on their experience. We're not birds or ants. Not much programming, mostly input from the world we know.

    To grossly generalize, if your reference group as you grow up is a largely single mothers with a bunch of kids with different fathers, living in subsidised housing like you do collecting food stamps and welfare and treating their kids badly, and most of the men and some of the women going in and out of jail, that's how life works to you. Of course this all applies, if somewhat less, to the less artificially disfunctionally clustered areas as well.

    I grew up in pretty typical, very middle and working class/middle world. We all went through adolesense. No one thought of joining a gang - there were no gangs as far as we knew - but of going to college or getting a job. Because were were in functioning families and pretty much everyone in our world had similar values. And of course skilled or less skilled non-college type jobs were mostly unionized or otherwise paid something, etc. Much like probably pretty much all of you. This is where the totally ignorant rascist reactionary right wing in this country is sort of right. It seems to me that liberals like me never seem to want to admit to any of this - at least not publicly.

    If you were out of a job and out of money, would you even think of living in a housing project, even if in NYC they call all of them "houses"? No, you wouldn't. NYC "houses" in Brooklyn are populated by pretty much all black and brown people, often islands surrounded by mostly old line white, or mostly immigrants from China and India and Russia etc. people. Almost every project is a hotbed of crime. Every project lowers property values around it, and for good reason.

    All of this I'm sure has been studied in many ways. I'm sure academic interst didn't end with Moynihan. But no one talks about it, or proposes doing anything about it. Like I suppose pretty much everything else.

    Guess what else: stupid elitist complete jerk Romney was also kind of right with what he said in Israel. Culture matters. I'm sorry, but there are serious cultural deficits in segments of American society, and not just with white rednecks. Projects concentrates the problem.

  • emjayay on August 26, 2012 10:18 PM:

    Sorry about the lack of editing in the above post. Please use your imagination. I'll try harder next time.

  • Objective Dem on August 26, 2012 11:15 PM:

    emjayay,

    You are talking about the culture of poverty and how to change it.

    When public housing was created many people warned about the concentration of poverty. But political realities led to concentrations. And the need to house people most in need created a concentration of the poorest of poor. But there has been a move for at least 3 decades. (The US Supreme Court Gautreaux ruling in 1976 forbade concentration of public housing in poor African American neighborhoods.) But programs designed to encourage public housing recipients to move to middle class suburbs with Section 8 vouchers haven't been successful. One of the key reasons is many poor blacks don't want to move to a distant largely white suburb where they don't know anyone and feel alienated from their neighbors. Bottomline is people recognize the problem you are referring to and are trying to address it, but its not easy to resolve.

    But the other important issue is that the crime is not directly correlated to public housing residents. Public housing does not allow ex-felons as residents and often has tight security. The worst crime in Chicago is in neighborhoods like Englewood and West Garfield Park that are largely single family homes and small apartment buildings. The gang bangers/drug dealers hang out on the corners and are subject to drive-bys.

    A couple readable books I think you would like are "There are No Children Here" by Alex Kotlowitz (who was also involved in the movie, the Interrupters.) and (although I think it has some bs) Gang Leader for the Day by Sudhir Venkatesh. They support your views to a large degree but add complexity.