When it comes to hiding our past transgressions, Chicago is up there with Where's Waldo?. Our fair city has more body mounds than Arlington and more skeletons in her closet than Vincent Price.
The Cabrini-Green Homes was the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) attempt to corral nearly 15,000 poor minority citizens into 3,607 cramped apartment buildings. It subsequently became a breeding ground for murder, rape, and gang violence. It has been etched into our cultural consciousness as the setting of the horrific Candyman in the 1992 horror movie.
Located on the Near-North side of Chicago, the original "row houses" were constructed in 1942. Originally home to mainly Swedish and Irish immigrants in 1850, the area where the CB project would be constructed was littered with shanty houses. The are would eventually be known as "Little Hell", because of the flames and noxious gasses that would literally shoot from the ground.
In 1942, the Francis Cabrini project was built, stipulated to house 75% whites and 25% blacks. In 1957 and 1962, the homes were extended under both the originally Cabrini name, as well as the new Green Homes. In 1966, the CHA was sued because their original 75/25 agreement was forced segregation. They were found liable in 1969, opening the high-rise buildings to all.
On April 4-13, 1968, several gang members opened fire on passers-by from their apartment balconies after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., which was the powder-keg that started the string of intense, racially-driven violence in the projects. In 1970, Sergeant James Severin and Officer Tony Rizzato of the Chicago Police Department were shot while patrolling the grounds as a part of the all-volunteer "Walk and Talk" initiative, to open up relations between gang members and policemen as a way to create a dialogue. 4 adults and 1 juvenile were charged and sentenced to 100 plus years in prison.
In 1981, Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne moved into the projects as an attempt to dispel rumors of their squalor and filthy living conditions. Even with armed guards, she only lasted three weeks. The main lesson learned by the tenants from this incident was the idea to solder their metal back doors to prevent access from both sides of their abodes.
In 1997, nine-year-old "Girl X" (Shatoya Currie) was raped and poisoned in a stairwell of the 1120 N. Larrabee building, leaving her blind, paralyzed and mute. This was the final knell of the death toll of these buildings, as their population was forced out against their will. The buildings were demolished between 1995 and 2011.
The Cabrini-Green story is an often-overlooked cautionary tale on the idea to segregate and contain violence within a large city. The squalor these people were living in shouldn't be forced on any living being, let alone a people who had no other option.
The buildings have been demolished, but their story has been passed down like an ancient fairy-tale, speaking of the horrors the building housed. As I said before, our fair city is all too eager to sweep our problems under the rug and let God sort it out. In the case of Cabrini-Green, turning a blind-eye to the problem only caused it to grow and multiply, like a spark in a pile of wood.
It is my fear that, with the election of Donald Trump, we'll revert to our past mistakes and segregate housing to try and squelch the gang violence in our city. In the debates, Trump was more than happy to bring up the crime rates and violence in our city, his voiced honeyed with overtones of moral superiority. What Trump would love for our city is Cabrini-Green Part II. Except, he would be sure to revise the name to include his own, of course.
Trump's racism sheds light on a very important factor as to why people don't want him leading our culturally-diverse nation. Racism is also a fatal philosophic character flaw. In her essay "Racism" from The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand lays out her definition of Racism: "Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors."
Racism, at its root, is a form of "Original Sin." White Supremacists see the skin of a black man as a moral trait, warning law-abiding folk of their inherent evil. This is akin to the idea that apples could potentially burn our tongues just because they're the same color as fire.
Trump's ignorance is not simply a hobby, as we've seen by his past racist behavior and remarks. Any racism, no matter how slight, is a major problem for you and I, let alone the president. It doesn't matter if he's "politically correct" or "speaks his mind" if his thoughts would incite another Cabrini-Green.
Trump's eye for economy and package-deals would be a perfect entry into mass public housing, as well as another opportunity to splash his name where it doesn't belong.
This country has a ghost haunting its corners and its one that can't irradicated by an exorcist. The stench of Cabrini-Green permeates every street in our city. Every person that's killed by gang violence, every life lost, holds the shadow of Cabrini-Green in its wake.
My hope is that we will never see the cranes rising up these buildings again to hide our nation's secrets from a president who is all too eager to leave these people behind.
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