As I gaze out of my apartment window here in Chicago wondering where, and not when, the next random shooting will take place (23 last night alone), I can't help but recall a quote by Martin Niemöller that graces the entrance to the Holocaust Museum in D.C.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
For the three years I’ve lived in this city, I’ve heard countless stories of gang violence and of innocent children being murdered as they travel to and from school. I’ve perused online articles about muggings and stabbings and those who are afraid to leave their homes after the sun sets. And I’ve done nothing, because the crimes happened in a different part of the city and didn’t directly impact me. But now they do. Violence in this city is spreading like wildfire, and many of us parents are wondering if we’ve made the right decision to stay in Chicago to raise our families.
I can’t help but be angry. Angry at Rahm Emanuel for not publicly addressing the issue of crime and angry at our police superintendent Garry McCarthy for not having an effective and implementable plan. I’m angry that this city is too broke to provide the social services direly needed to support families and at-risk youth. And I’m angry at myself, because I’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing but watch, in silence, as other areas of this city have suffered. And now we all suffer.
So now what, Chicagoans? Do we encourage our leaders to institute policies that have worked in New York City, such as Stop and Frisk (which I find racially-biased), misdemeanor arrests, and the like? Do we even trust that our elected and appointed officials are doing what’s necessary to reduce crime? And what can we do ourselves to make this city safe?
There are so many questions. Although I’m not an expert in any way, I'm going to throw out some ideas to get us moving. Please comment below and add your thoughts. Argue, criticize and disagree with me, come up with better ideas, or vent and talk about how the crime spree has influenced how you see our city. Just do – or say – something. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and claim that the crime epidemic in Chicago is someone else’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem to solve, not just those with fancy titles, but everyone who wants this city to be a safe place to raise a family. The time to act is now.
1. Implement Ceasefire
In 2006, David Kennedy, a professor from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, helped Cincinnati police identify and engage key players in the city’s crime circles. The result? Cincinnati witnessed a dramatic decrease in violence, producing a much better outcome than the city’s previous “zero-tolerance” policies.
2. Get Involved
This week a 12-year-old, Abby Greenberg, was Windy City Live talking about how she collected more than 150,000 names for a petition to ban plastic bags in her community. A 14-year-old, Julie Bluhm, successfully rallied Seventeen magazine to stop airbrushing every model who appears in its pages. If these two girls can impact major industries and state government before they're even eligible for a driver’s permit, what is wrong with the rest of us? Petitions, rallies, community task forces, town halls - things will only get better if we get off of our couches, off of our iPads, and do something.
3. A Spin-off of Donor’s Choose
Have you heard of Donor’s Choose? A college grad launched this program 12 years ago. It lets donors like you and me sponsor specific programs for schools. Since this town is essentially bankrupt, maybe non-profits and other agencies can join a site that lets us select and fund whatever programs we like. If our city has no cash, we have no choice but to fill in the cracks with our own resources.
4. A Family March to Millennium Park
Maybe this is a little crazy, but what about organizing a march with our families to get this city to take crime seriously? It would be a ton of work, but I think it will show Mayor Emanuel and others that we mean business.
I've got other ideas, about decriminalizing minor drug possessions, tougher gun laws, mentoring programs, internships and educational opportunities to engage our youth. When teenagers are bored and have nowhere to go all day, they are more likely to get into trouble. That's just a fact, whether you're in Chicago or anywhere else.
I welcome you to disagree and critique these ideas and offer your own. This is our city, and we should all be safe here. Before it's too late and before there's no one left to speak up for any of us.
~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop