As Chicago reeled under a new spate of street violence, community organizers including scores of teens working to prevent violence met Saturday in Little Village — and participants said the problem will require a far more comprehensive approach than just locking up “bad guys.”
“The ‘harsh on crime’ approach simply hasn’t worked,” said Luis Carrizales, coordinator of the Violence Prevention Collaborative , a collective of community organizations run out of Enlace Chicago .
“We’ve had that attitude for 15 years, and we’ve created a prison population larger than ever in history. And we have more young people who are disconnected, either not in school or out of work, and we’re surprised that they turn to violence.”
The collaborative works on the principle that the problem of violence is complex and there is no single approach to dealing with it, Carrizales said. For example, a panel at Saturday’s gathering addressed the links between street violence and domestic violence — young people who have witnessed or been direct victims of abuse and haven’t gotten treatment.
The event marked the UN’s Day of Peace and focused on nonviolence education. Peace circle training was offered for teachers and school counselors, part of an effort to promote restorative justice in Chicago schools, Carrizales said.
It’s one of several key proactive strategies to reduce violence that political leaders and school officials should take more seriously, he said.
The “school-to-prison pipeline” — with school disciplinary policies that criminalize misbehavior that would have been dealt with within school in earlier days — has certainly contributed to the culture of violence, he said.
“You’re convicting and labelling people as violent and unredeemable at age 14, 15, 16, and saying lock them up and get rid of them,” he said. “The problem is they’re going to be coming back to our neighborhoods, and they’ll come back bitter and more angry and with even less options.”
“Teachers know that just kicking a kid out of class and suspending him doesn’t work, and they’ll just end up on the street,” he said. “But the people working in schools don’t have any options, and unfortunately CPS isn’t providing them with options.”
For years community organizations working with youth have been pushing CPS to institute restorative justice on a district-wide basis. (More here .)
“The politicians are contributing to the problem,” keynote speaker Luis Rodriguez told Newstips. “All they want to do is repress and supress, they want to bring in more police, and the fact of the matter is the violence has gotten worse with more prisons. It doesn’t work.”
Rodriguez, a one-time gang member and now acclaimed author, poet and activist , worked with gang-involved and non-gang youth in Chicago from 1985 to 2000, founding the organization Youth Struggling for Survival. He’s now based in Los Angeles and travels widely, speaking in jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities, among other locations. He was the vice-presidential candidate of the Justice Party in 2012 and is now running for the Green Party nomination for governor of California.
His program is to turn young people on to creative expression and to healing through native spiritual traditions.
“What are the alternatives? That’s where people have got to think about imagination, cultural spaces in every neighborhood for expression, healing — if it’s educational, if it’s spiritual, if all the churches would open up, if all the schools would open up, you would stop a lot of this violence. And it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as it’s costing us to put people away….
“We do need an economy that can take care of everybody, but I think if we’re waiting for that first, we’re going to be waiting a long time. There’s things that can be done — how can everybody be productive? I don’t mean productive like, I’m going to work at McDonalds, I mean somebody who’s productive, creative, and autonomous. We need to really develop independent, interdependent human beings.”
His work in Chicago was difficult — three youth leaders were killed and several participants ended up in prison, including his son — “but the majority of those kids are doing well today. So it’s worth it.”
I asked Carrizales what he thought the city should be doing.
“The city is so focused on reacting, and we really need to be thinking proactively,” he said. There always seems to be some “big lofty initiative” but “never any long-term strategic vision” involving “empowering neighborhoods to strategically address the issues they’re facing.”
“What the city really needs to do is invest in the neighborhoods and build them up,” he said.