My Response to John Kass and His Plans for the Feds

My Response to John Kass and His Plans for the Feds
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Recently, John Kass, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, posted an article entitled "A plan for Trump's feds in Chicago" in which he laid out a master plan to solve the gun violence problem here in Chicago.  The plan was originally conceived by Mr. Robert Milan,  former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, a former Cook County Illinois prosecutor, and currently Managing Director of Investigations and Disputes at Kroll, a leading global provider of risk solutions.

The plan was originally laid out on John Kass' podcast, "The Chicago Way", which I'd never heard of, but I had to listen to hear this plan in it's full glory.  You can visit the above article and listen to the podcast to get the full gist of this plan in its entirety, but allow me to give you the juiciest tidbits:

Bob Milan proposes to cordon (prevent access to or from by surrounding it with police or other guards) off the neighborhoods of Austin and Englewood.   Of the 164 entrances and exits in Austin, and 151 entrances and exits in Englewood, he wants to close off all but 90 in each.  The streets would be closed off using cement blockades most likely.  The 90 entrances that are left open would be guarded by National Guardsmen, tracking the comings and goings of residents and visitors, and anyone else venturing into the area.  From there, he wants to completely saturate the areas with law enforcement.  His thought is that this would completely decrease gun violence in these areas because in any instance of violence, the perpetrator would not be able to escape, and simply because of the sheer number of law enforcement in a confined space, the person would be caught.  This would also close down any open air drug markets that exist in the area.  He went on to say that he, and presumably the police, have knowledge of these open air drug markets, and in the podcast, he went on to make specific references.  Checkpoints would be up from 7pm-7am, with National Guardsmen patrolling the area the rest of the day.  Anyone found breaking the law would be immediately arrested or, of course, met with deadly force.  He estimates the plan would call for 4,000-8,000 soldiers/law enforcement on patrol.  He also estimates that the plan would cost "millions and millions" of dollars.

Now if you stop and think about it for one moment...yes...yes, this plan is loosely the plot for the 2012 film Dredd, the remake of the Sylvester Stallone flop, Judge Dredd, based off the actually really awesome comic book of the same name.  Yet, I digress...

Now, this article was sent to me by a friend. The friend said that I needed to not only read the article, but respond to it.  I wanted to wait for a few days.  I wanted to be sure that, in the words of Bob and John, I didn't respond with "Knee Jerk Bullshit".  Well, I've spent time thinking about it. Nothing knee jerk here.  This plan has so many issues, I can barely think where to begin.

1) You're actually looking at cordoning off 4 communities

While Englewood and Austin are the neighborhoods that easily slide off the tongue in conversations about Chicago, at this moment, while Austin is ranked #1 in occurrences of gun violence, Englewood is ranked #4 behind Garfield Park #2, and North Lawndale #3.  So actually aren't we talking about literally sectioning off and separating 4 predominantly minority communities off from the rest of the city?  Now, I know that Chicago is considered to be one of the most segregated cities in the United States, but God damn, are we simply going to stop pretending? I can't imagine that anyone would propose separating large portions of the blacks and browns from the rest of the city with a straight face...and actually be taken seriously by anyone listening.  But alas, in the face of the 45th presidency, unfortunately, anything is possible.

2) You actually want to take communities whom, for decades, have said that they are under siege by the police...and actually put them UNDER SIEGE. 

The idea in and of itself seems comical...until you realize that someone actually is suggesting it.  What Bob and John are actually suggesting, in layman's terms, is to bring in the big guns and whip and pummel these communities into submission.  Bob talks about how people will suddenly come running out of their houses in joy and sipping lemonade on their front porches...while staring at a humvee full of soldiers sitting in the intersection at the corner?

I spent 9 years in the military. I've done checkpoint training. Actually, we set up checkpoints in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. We also set them up in Afghanistan.  Actually, we also did something called "Cordon and Searches" in Afghanistan as well.  That's what we used to search for weapons, contraband, and Taliban sympathizers.  You surrounded the town, went in, shook some people down, and hope what you found was worth the discontent you would breed for interrupting and disrupting peoples lives. Will soldiers shake down people too searching for contraband? Will they be "stopping and frisking" people?  Will the press be allowed in to document this experience?

3) Logistically when will this begin and end? 

Bob Milan proposed that his would happen in the summer, when gun violence in Chicago is at its height.  However, how do we know that once this has begun, it will end in the fall?  If the weather stays nice through to September, would the cordon continue?  What about if we have a mild winter, do we just keep it going until December?  January?  This winter has resulted in 100 homicides in 56 why not just have the cordon year-round?  I wonder if that would improve tourism, with people knowing that the black and brown people are segregated off in their own little part of town...which brings me to my next point:

4) You want to take the proverbial "ghetto" and turn it into a literal ghetto. 

In modern language, among the various uses of the word ghetto, one of them basically means a slum, and let's be real, a lot of Chicagoans don't have the nicest things to say about Englewood and Austin.  However, originally, the word had a very specific meaning: "the quarter in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which the Jews were restricted,"

In the 16th and 17th centuries, cities like Venice, Frankfurt, Prague and Rome forcibly segregated their Jewish populations, often walling them off and submitting them to onerous restrictions.

By the late 19th century, these ghettos had been steadily dismantled. But instead of vanishing from history, ghettos reappeared — with a purpose more ominous than segregation — under Nazi Germany. German forces established ghettos in over a thousand cities across Europe. They were isolated, strictly controlled and resource-deprived — but unlike the ghettos of history, they weren't meant to last.  So we're going to take the resource deprived communities of the city and separate them from everyone else. Source: NPR

Would there be restrictions involved?  Curfews? What if a checkpoint gets backed up and I'm late for work...will that be an acceptable excuse with my employer?

5) I can't imagine this plan will improve community-police relations.

One thing that Bob Milan made clear in his proposal was the fact that the National Guard soldiers would have the mission of "Protection and Respect." Is that the same respect that the Chicago Police Department is supposed to be showing these communities?  As some of you may have heard, the CPD has actually not been respecting these communities.  Actually, the CPD has, in many cases, been violating the civil rights of these communities, among other violations that the Department of Justice highlighted in their recent report following their investigation of the CPD.  So, I'm supposed to trust that soldiers will treat the people better? As well as the law enforcement that you will ply the area with?  Now that just sounds to me like wishful thinking.

6) Who exactly is "We" Bob and John? 

Now, full disclosure, I do not, nor have I ever lived in Englewood or Austin.  I grew up in Roseland, and currently live just outside the city. I do however spend a lot of time working with youth in both communities.  Actually, John made a point to bring up the 3 youth killed in Chicago recently as a catalyst for bringing in the National Guard. In doing so, he said that "we've lost".

Who exactly is we John?  I'm pretty sure that you don't spend an exorbitant amount of time in Englewood.  I was there today, at Henderson Elementary School, which is where Kanari Bowers attended school.  I do a program there with the 7th and 8th graders.  When was the last time you visited Henderson John?  Were you at Kanari's funeral Friday?  While I've only seen your picture, I don't recall seeing anyone with your likeness there...but I could be wrong...obviously my focus was on the Pastor and the speakers.  I don't think there's a "we" in this equation.  I make it clear to my students that "we" as far as I'm concerned are those who fiercely care about them, not "we" who have to live with the terror of gun violence day in and day out.  I also don't think your plan comes from a place of love or respect...because I can't imagine subjecting anyone I care about to a occupation by military forces.  It simply boggles my mind.

7) If you want to bring in Federalized National Guard soldiers, why don't you have them do something productive

That would include:

  • Tearing down abandoned buildings
  • Cleaning
  • Helping rehab many of the schools in the 4 aforementioned neighborhoods that could use some upkeep and a fresh coat of paint

In addition, if you want to throw millions and millions around, why not replace those torn down buildings with new ones, and not million dollar town homes and condos, but real affordable housing, and subsidize the buying of houses and property so that you can bring in homewoners and some new life to the community, and I'm not talking about jacking up the rents ushering in gentrification Jon, I'm talking about honest to God prices that pre-existing members of the community could actually afford.

9) The truth as I see it

The truth of the matter is that there probably is not a band-aid for the problem that we see in Chicago.  It is a complex problem, with an equally complex solution, and the only thing we can "immediately" do to combat the problem is start on long term

I will give Bob and John credit in that they do at least recognize that there are large long term problems like

  • Unemployment
  • Extreme poverty
  • Education
  • Parenting
  • Broken families

None of that will be fixed by an occupation. You're willing to spend "millions and millions" of dollars to box depressed and disenfranchised people in, but not to get them better educations and jobs?  I would argue that that in and of itself speaks volumes.

The most immediate solution you have available is to actually begin rebuilding relationships and trust between the police and the community, so that when violent crimes happen, people in the community will actually step forward to help bring the perpetrators to justice.  And that means that yes, there is some onus on the community to step up and take ownership of their community.  People like Tamar Manasseh and iGrow Chicago have done this wonderfully.  Hell, I will even be so bold as to put me and my colleagues in that category.  If you know your neighbor is a shitbag who took pop shots at someone, or is running guns out of their house, have some personal courage and say something.  By remaining silent, you're only protecting a criminal so that they can criminalize someone else....potentially you.  We ALL have a hand in this problem, and we all need to put in a hand to see it fixed.

We need to figure out how 14-year-olds get their hands on guns. We need to make sure that straw purchasers are not allowed to continue putting guns in the hands of our babies and in our streets, and we need to make sure that gun dealers who are doing bad business are not allowed to do so.  And yes, we need to figure out why guns continue to emigrate by the thousands from Indiana and end up on Chicago streets. That's a problem.   If the police know that there are open air drug markets in the city, perhaps we can spend a few of those millions to get some officers on that problem.  If officers are gonna sit in their cars randomly (I saw it today on 57th and Wolcott), perhaps they should sit where the open air drug market is...maybe?

In closing, let me say unequivocally:

I will never think the occupation of minority communities, of any communities, by military forces in Chicago is a "solution".  And I find it hard to have respect for anyone who does.

I would like to invite John Kass and Bob Milan to work with me on organizing a community forum to sit with community stakeholders and Alderman Lopez, so that we can discuss your “plan” with community members directly.  I'm sure we could host it at Henderson Elementary School.  Ms. Ivy-Jackson would be very interested in this conversation since it would directly impact her students and their families.

'Too Much Drama in the Neighborhood,' Henderson Principal Says

Much like Ms. Ivy Jackson, I fight EVERY DAY to make things better for the youth of Chicago...and for myself.   If each one of us did that, imagine what could happen in the short term...and the long term.

Also, one last thought, and this goes directly to Mr. John Kass: to describe the period of mourning, and any ensuing acts,  of the loss of young lives like Kanari, Takiya, and Lavontay as “pathetic” and “hollow” reaches to levels of condescension that I dare not even address.  Chicago communities rife with gun violence do need help, but occupation and militarization are not the answer.

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