violence – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Organizing against violence Sat, 21 Sep 2013 23:00:43 +0000 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.

Peace circles

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.

What could go wrong? Sat, 13 Apr 2013 23:05:00 +0000 Buried in a recent Fox TV report was this tidbit:  multiple City Hall and CPS sources said that Barbara Byrd-Bennett had determined that the district could handle closing 40 schools this year.

But Mayor Emanuel overruled his new schools chief and insisted on upping the number to over 50.  (An official spokesperson denied the report.)

Hotter heads prevailed, you might say.

Those who suggest the whole process of community hearings was a charade aimed at a number predetermined by Emanuel, rather than an exercise in transparency and civic accountability, may be on to something.

Proposed school closings and 2012 homicide heat map (by Radicals Against Discrimination)

Proposed school closings and 2012 homicide heat map (by Radicals Against Discrimination)

It wasn’t the first time warnings about overreaching have been overruled.  In January, someone on Byrd-Bennett’s advisory commission on closings let it be known that they were considering recommending no more than 20 closings — perhaps as few as 15 — in one year.

“They haven’t demonstrated to us that they can close 100 or even 50 schools,” an unnamed commission source told the Sun-Times.  “They don’t have the expertise to accomplish that in such a short timeframe.  When they closed down as many as 12 schools, it was a disaster.”

Something happened to change their minds by March 6 — perhaps a fiat from the mayor’s office — when the commission’s final report recommended 80 closings, based on its assessment of the district’s capacity to move students safely to better performing schools.

Even then, the commission suggested the option of staging the closings over two years, noting the risks of moving too quickly.  “The quick turnaround may make community members feel that CPS’s engagement with them was inauthentic and undertaking just for show” — and “the compressed timeline may lead to the district making avoidable mistakes” in handling the vast logistics of moving dozens of schools and thousands of students, according to the commission’s final report.


This language echoes that of the Broad Foundation’s School Closing Guide, which recommends taking 18 months — 12 months max — to plan and implement school closings, a timeline which only starts after a decision-making process including evaluating capacity and developing school closing criteria and lists of schools to close with community input.

The Broad Foundation, of course, is the school reform outfit financed by billionaire Eli Broad that trained Byrd-Bennett and J.C. Brizard, and where Byrd-Bennett is still a paid consultant.  The group recently hosted Emanuel on a panel of “education mayors”; Eli Broad gave Emanuel $25,000 when he ran for mayor, according to Gapers Block.

Driven by the exigencies of Emanuel’s reelection schedule and nothing else, CPS has conducted the careful series of stages recommended by the Broad report all at the same time — decision-making, community engagement (in which the need to close schools is carefully sold to residents), planning and implementation.

No wonder what the Broad guide warns are the risks of moving too fast — “confusion, community discord, and otherwise avoidable mistakes ” — seem to be coming to pass.

Unfortunately for Emanuel, responsibility for any problems resulting from the largest and rashest school closure in history will be his and, to a large extent, his alone.


Saying student safety is her number-one priority, Byrd-Bennett accepted the commission’s recommendation and removed high schools from consideration, due to the deadly history of such closings in Chicago.

Reverend Robin Hood, a longtime anti-violence organizer on the West Side, isn’t sure that’s enough.

“Gangs are definitely a factor” in elementary schools, he said. “That’s where a lot of your violence is coming from.”  With the breakup of gang structures, “mostly you see 13, 14, 15-year-olds out there on the street –and  sometimes they’re 11 and 12.”

In twenty conflicts he’s helped mediate in the past year, he says, eighteen involved elementary and young high school students.  In one dispute over a street corner that he helped defuse recently, “of twenty kids out there, seventeen were from elementary schools and three were high school students.”

On WTTW recently, Byrd-Bennett noted that parents feel their children are safe inside their schools; they’re worried about getting there and back.

That’s true until you start combining schools, community activists say.  Reverend Hood notes that it took three years to calm things down when KIPP Charter School co-located with Penn Elementary.  “At the beginning, it was almost a war.”  (As the Chicago Tribune recently put it: “Violence was a constant threat.”)

It took intensive community involvement to smooth things out, including grassroots groups starting a choir and a boxing program to bring students from both schools together.

In Bronzeville, when upper-grade elementary students at Jackie Robinson and Price were thrown together in the same building, “the climate in the school exploded,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.  “Young people began to group up to ensure their personal safety.”

As neighborhood youth explain it, Brown said, it led to the formation of two factions, the SUWUs and 4-6 Terror.  According to police, that conflict is thought to be behind the shooting of Hadiya Pendleton in January.

Brown decries the constant failure of CPS to take “community wisdom” and community planning efforts into account when it makes decisions about schools.

Crossing gang lines

Byrd-Bennett promised that — this time — CPS would take gang boundaries into account.  It seems to have failed at this.  Indeed, for some reason, school closings are concentrated in areas with the highest homicide rates.

From early reports:  Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) warns that CPS’s plan to send Manierre Elementary to Jenner would force kids to cross Division street into Gangster Disciples turf.  As it stands today, “[kids] from Manierre can’t even cross the street,” he told DNAinfo.  “Every time they go over to Seward Park on the Jenner side they get beat up.”

In Englewood, DNAinfo reports, students being moved from Earle Elementary will have to cross the territory of three different gangs to get to Goodlow Magnet School a half mile away.  (Since Goodlow is on probation, the move doesn’t seem to meet the standard of sending kids to higher performing schools, either, the Sun-Times reports.)

Also in Englewood, Banneker Elementary is to be closed, with students sent to Mays — across the gang boundary of Halsted Street.

That’s just a sampling. With street gangs fragmenting and cliques operating on a block-by-block basis, the landscape in many neighborhoods is treacherous — and according to parents, far more complicated that CPS understands.

Byrd-Bennett has promised beefed-up security and Safe Passage patrols, and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has said police have that capacity to safeguard students crossing gang boundaries.

“I don’t know how the superintendent can say he’s going to keep all the kids safe,” County Board president Toni Preckwinkle told the Chicago Reader. “I don’t know what possessed him to say that.”

Reverend Hood points out that police were posted at Fenger and Crane High Schools when Derrion Albert and Ruben Ivey were killed — and many think the police force is already overextended.

“Safe Passage could help, but you have to have the right people,” said Hood, who helped develop the safe passage model CPS uses when he organized West Side Pastors for Safe Passage a few years ago.  “A lot of work needs to be done” including recruitment, background checks, and training. “They’re going to do that by September?  I don’t know about that.”

The Safe Passage program needs to restructure its hiring to include low-level nonviolent ex-offenders who’ve kept out of trouble.  “You have to have the parents and the community of the children that we’re trying to have safe passage for,” he said.  “It needs to be all hands on deck.”


“We’ve seen increased violence every time they close schools,” he said.  “It’s nothing new.  Elementary schools too.”

And that was when school closings involved a few thousand children.  This year’s proposals would impact nearly 50,000.

“It can be a very volatile situation,” Hood said.  “If you think police and Safe Passage can do it, you’re in for a huge problem.”

A retired principal seconds his assessment.

“It’s going to be chaos,” James Patrick told the Tribune.  “There’s going to be violence and students are going to drop out.  They know where they can go and not go.  If they’re sent to an unsafe area, they’re not going to go.”

The retired principal of South Shore High School, now on the Bronzeville Community Action Council, Patrick “said the district’s decision-makers at their downtown headquarters don’t have the experience or knowledge to know how ever-shifting gang boundaries affect life for children in the city,” the Trib reported.

“Don’t destabilize these communities when there’s already blood running in the street,” said Pastor Gregory Livingston of the Mission of Faith Baptist Church in Roseland, as a group of pastors pleaded with Emanuel to rethink the school closings

Community groups and local parents have begun a series of grassroots media events where they walk from a closing school to the receiving school (they’ve called on Emanuel to join them, to “walk the walk,” but it turns out he’s better at talking the talk).

On the first walk, Fox News reporter Darlene Hill was clearly shocked to find needles and other drug paraphernalia in the gutter, among stretches of boarded-up buildings and vacant lots, with groups of young men ignoring a “no loitering sign,” on the ten-block walk from Henson Elementary to Hughes.

She quotes a notably tone-deaf response from the Business Leadership Council: “Sometimes the comfortable path is not the right one.”

“The comfortable path,” by their lights, avoids areas that parents and community members consider dangerous for their children.  “The right path” goes wherever Emanuel’s agenda of school closings and privatization dictates.

Maybe some of these business leaders should venture beyond their own path and join the parent on their walks.


Part one of a three-part series

Part 2: Better Schools?

Part 3: Saving Money?


Violence prevention: Corporate charity or citizenship? Thu, 21 Feb 2013 22:41:21 +0000 Last year, community groups called on Mayor Emanuel and the business community to match the fundraising they did for the NATO Summit to fund youth programs in the neighborhoods.

Now, under the glare of national publicity for Chicago’s ongoing epidemic of violence, Emanuel has decided to deploy his famous fundraising skills to gather $50 million in corporate donations for violence prevention programs over the next five years.

Certainly, every effort to bring resources to desperate communities is welcome.  (And it’s churlish to point out that these folks raised nearly $50 million for NATO in a few weeks.) But is charity a substitute for good citizenship?

The Grassroots Collaborative is pointing out that Emanuel’s choice to co-chair the campaign heads a company that is profiting from controversial interest rate swaps that cost the city and the schools tens of millions of dollars a year.

Jim Reynolds is CEO of Loop Capital, which according to GC, has made $100 million in five interest rate swap deals with the city and CPS since 2005.

Interest rate swaps — also called “toxic rate swaps” by critics — are one of the wonderfully innovative financial products developed in the run-up to the financial crash a few years ago.  They provide set interest rates to cover variable returns on public bond deals.

Cost Chicago $72 million a year

But since the crash, the Fed has kept interest rates near zero, while local governments are locked into interest rates of 3 to 6 percent.  That costs Chicago $72 million a year; CPS loses $35 million a year on the deals, according to GC. (CTU has protested this arrangement.)

While applauding their “charity work,” GC notes, “Chicago business leader must address their role in creating the lack of resources for youth and communities in the first place.  They must stop gouging taxpayers and renegotiate these toxic deals.”

“The solution doesn’t end with short-term donations,” notes GC.  It requires “renegotiating our local governments’ relationship with Wall Street, and getting our economy back on track.”

The toxic rate swaps are just the tip of the iceberg.  The millions of dollars of TIF subsidies going to the corporations that will be donating to the mayor’s fund should be considered too.

If Emanuel wants the business community to step up, he could reverse his phaseout of the head tax, which brought the city $40 million a year.  (It was called a “job killler,” but there’s no evidence for that — the $4 per employee per month amounted to about 25 cents an hour.  And it was one of the only revenue measures that captured a smidgeon of the estimated $30 billion earned in Chicago by residents of the suburbs each year.)

Corporate tax avoidance

Emanuel is expanding summer youth employment, though the number of jobs available will still be a fraction of what it was in previous decades.  He points out that federal funding has dropped precipitously, and the state has been unable to fund a summer youth jobs program established by the legislature.  Maybe the fact that half the state’s corporations don’t pay any income tax — and that Illinois leads the nation in a number of economically pointless business deductions — needs to be looked at.

Instead of paying the taxes they should, Emanuel’s corporate donors will most likely get a tax deduction.

There’s a steady shifting of public functions to the private sector taking place under Emanuel. Economic development is being outsourced to World Business Chicago, public finance to the Infrastructure Trust, public education to charter operators. Now the corporate sector has to step up to provide funding for youth services because the city can’t.

Behind the austerity agenda that Emanuel has enthusiastically embraced lies the contention that the city is broke, the state is broke.  But of course, the money is out there.  We’re in the middle of an economic recovery with soaring corporate profits and intractable unemployment. But with our regressive revenue system, we’re taxing the people at the bottom — the people who are losing ground — twice as heavily as those at the top.

It’s perfectly encapsulated in the story Ben Joravsky tells of the fireman who responds to Emanuel’s teasing about pension cuts by asking the mayor why he doesn’t support a financial transaction tax.   (In response, Emanuel sputters.)

Money for friends

The shift from the public sector, of course, involves a shift away from transparency and accountability.  When Emanuel was disbursing leftover NATO funds to neighborhood programs, trotting from press conference to press conference, “there wasn’t much transparency in how the programs were chosen,” said Eric Tellez of GC.  And it looked like a lot of the money was spent in ways that helped the mayor’s allies, including charter schools, he said.

The communities where Chicago’s young people are being shot down have been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs, devastated by foreclosures, devastated by “lock-em-up” policies that offer few avenues of hope for ex-offenders.  They’ve been devastated by racism and inequality.

As Salim Muwakkil says, what they need is nothing short of a Marshall Plan, the kind of massive investment program with which the U.S. revived Europe after World War II.

That’s hard to imagine in this day and age.  Politicians like Emanuel are products of the era of the “taxpayer revolt” and reflect all of its assumptions.

But there are signs that era is drawing to a close.  In California — which launched the era in 1978 with Proposition 13, capping sales taxes and requiring two-thirds legislative majorities to raise taxes — voters in November approved a measure hiking the sales tax and raising income taxes on the wealthy.  The alternative, quite simply, was fiscal disaster.  Tea Party-backed anti-tax measures went down to defeat in Florida and Michigan.

What Chicago and Illinois desperately need — what Chicago’s young people desperately need — is a turn back in the direction of fairness and broad-based, inclusive prosperity.

Bronzeville youth, community leaders to speak on violence Wed, 13 Feb 2013 23:47:30 +0000 While politicians push tougher law enforcement to address youth violence, community leaders and youth in Bronzeville are demanding that the root causes of violence — including unemployment, disinvestment, and school closings — be put at the top of the agenda.

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 12 14, youth leaders from five high schools — including King College Prep, where Hadiya Pendleton was a student, and where one of the suspects in her murder graduated – will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. at Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st Street.  They’re part of Leaders Investing For Equality (LIFE), which for several years has pushed for restoration of funding cut from youth employment programs.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Bronzeville Alliance and Centers for New Horizons will hold a press conference at the Ellis Childcare Center, 4301 S. Cottage, to launch a community initiative to coordinate social services for community youth and families and to advocate for a reversal of cutbacks they say have destabilized the community.

In media coverage of youth violence, “there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the root causes of these problems and the responsiblity of government and the private sector for years of disinvestment in minority communities,” said John Owens of CNH.

“We’ve had many years of jobs being lost and cutbacks in a whole range of social services – and the whole idea of closing schools is just another form of cutbacks,” he said.

“There’s been no discussion of youth employment, no discussion of the destabilization of families when jobs are lost and parents are working odd hours, no discussion of afterschool programs that are relevant,” Owens said.  “The bottom line is that we need to understand what it means to build community and we need to start building it – with the kind of resources that are needed for a community in crisis.”

Owen said CNH and other Bronzeville agencies are trying to provide developmental social services, “but everybody is barely keeping their doors open. There are not enough of us and we are not funded anywhere near what would be adequate to reach the number of youth and families out there who are in need.”

The new coalition, dubbed SAVE (Stop Armed Violence Everywhere), is calling on the city and state to work with residents to restore employment, educational, mental health and recreational resources in Bronzeville.  They are demanding meetings with Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel.

The coalition includes local schools, social service agencies, community groups, and business and veterans groups, Owens said.

The Bronzeville Alliance issued a call to the media “to avoid body-count journalism and drive-by reporting that criminalizes our community and tends to look at this very complex problem in narrow, counter-productive terms.”

It calls for an approach that is “pro-active, holistic, and sustainable.”

Youth leaders from LIFE will highlight public school closings, reduced funding for summer youth employment and limited recreational opportunities as”catalysts of community destabilization,” according to a statement from Shannon Bennett of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which backs LIFE.

“Policy decisions made without consultation with the people directly impacted have led to destabilization of communities and increased violence in neighborhoods, particularly communities of color,” according to the statement.

“Summer youth employment was decimated over the last 20 years, and only one-third of the youth who apply each year for summer jobs find work. There is very little teen-specific programming in communities around Chicago serving out-of-school and severely at-risk youth.

“School actions implemented by the Chicago Board of Education have led to the creation of new youth gangs and the 300 percent increase in homicides in north Kenwood-Oakland.”

[See previous Newstips on LIFE from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011]

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Brighton Park: vigil for gun victims – and call to action Mon, 21 Jan 2013 22:05:46 +0000 Brighton Park residents will gather at Kelly Park on Tuesday for a candlelight vigil memoralizing 26 deaths in Newtown, Connecticut and 27 people shot in Brighton Park last year – and call for gun control legislation and restoration of funding for youth services there.

Joined by local elected officials, they’ll gather at Kelly Park, 2725 W. 41st, at 3 p.m., Tuesday; in case of inclement weather they’ll hold a brief press conference there and gather inside Kelly High School across the street.

Last year funding for two state anti-violence programs was cut in half; in Brighton Park that meant the loss of five full-time school-based counselors serving Kelly High and seven elementary schools, said Sara Reschly of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

Along with individual counseling, the counselors ran anger management and life skills workshops, and when BPNC surveyed teachers on the results, the vast majority reported a significiant decrease in classroom behavior issues and increased class participation and homework completion, Reschly said.

At a community rally last summer, several young people testified about how youth programming had helped them turn their lives around.

State funding was maintained for parent engagement and youth employment programs, but they operate only in the summer, leaving no state resource for anti-violence work in the neighborhood through the school year, she said.  “With 27 people shot last year, that’s a problem,” she said.

“The focus right now is on gun legislation and that’s important, but we need youth services too,” Reschly said.  “Seriously addressing violence has to be a community effort and it has to involve positive opportunities for young people.”

Community members continue to press the park district for renovation of Kelly Park, Reschly said.  “We were very disappointed that Kelly Park didn’t get any of the NATO legacy funding” handed out by Mayor Emanuel in recent months, she said.

Brighton Park is the most “park-poor” area in the city, she said.  “Given the fact that we don’t have a lot of green space, it’s even more important to maintain existing facilities, so youth and familes can benefit from them.”


Related: Facing anti-violence cuts, Brighton Park proposes community plan

More police in schools? Mon, 21 Jan 2013 01:57:03 +0000 New federal funds for safe schools should go for more counselors, social workers and psychologists, and not more police in schools, several groups are arguing.

Students and parents from across the city will hold a press conference Monday, January 21, 2 p.m. at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark to make their case.

Participating are Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, POWER-PAC, and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

President Obama has proposed spending $150 million on police “school resource officers,” counselors and psychologists.

“We have ten full-time school security guards and two full-time armed school police, but we don’t even have one school psychologist,” said VOYCE student leader Ahkeem Wright in a release.

A CTU study last year found CPS was staffed far below recommended levels for school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists.

CPS’s approach “has led to record-public spending, stark racial disparities and the overuse of school-based arrests for misdemeanor offenses – even as homicide and gun violence in the surrounding communities skyrocket,” the groups maintain.

Chicago has had among the highest in-school arrest rates in the nation, and last year there were an average of 25 students arrested in school every day here, compared to 5 in New York City, with twice as many students, according to VOYCE.

“Students are being arrested for misbehavior that 20 years ago would have meant a trip to the principal’s office,” said VOYCE coordinator Emma Tai.  “It’s not punishment, it’s not consequences — it’s criminalization.”

In 2011, CPS voluntarily increased its payments for police officers stationed in schools from $8 million a year to $25 million.  A new contract is set to be renewed at this month’s school board meeting.

“We need more ways to support our students, not more cops to arrest them for little things,” said POWER-PAC co-chair Felipa Mena, a restorative justice peacemaker at Wells High School whose son – as Wells graduate – was killed in a street shooting in 2009.


For more:  How Obama might make school-to-prison pipeline worse (American Prospect)

Facing anti-violence cuts, Brighton Park proposes a community plan Thu, 26 Jul 2012 23:02:36 +0000 Kelly High School’s auditorium was packed Wednesday night by residents of Brighton Park – the neighborhood where a 13-year-old boy was shot on his front porch while shielding a friend earlier this month – supporting a community anti-violence plan in the face of drastic cuts to programs they say have been working.

“Violence is up in Brighton Park, but it’s not up as much as elsewhere,” said Patrick Brosnan of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.  In nearby Chicago Lawn, killings are up 150 percent, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“The gang issue has gotten more complicated this year,” Brosnan said.  “There are a lot of fights, a lot of shootings.”  This spring there was an average of a shooting each week, according to The Gate.  But BPNC’s youth programs have a lot of success stories, Brosnan said.

State Representative Dan Burke and other officials pledged to help BPNC secure funding from the state for youth leadership and mentoring programs, parent patrols, school-based counseling, and gang intervention programs.

Budget cut in half

Most of those programs are currently funded through two state programs.  The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative provides jobs for 80 young people as peer mentors and 50 parents mentors in each of 20 Chicago communities, and the Safety Net Works program supports existing youth services, including school-based counseling and crisis intervention, to collaborate on broad anti-violence efforts.

But the $30 million funding for the two programs was eliminated in the new state budget.  It was replaced by a $15 million allocation to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Agency for community-based violence prevention efforts.

Organizations participating in the two programs are pressing to keep existing programs operating, said Chris Patterson, NRI coordinator at Organization of the Northeast in Uptown.  “How do you cover 20 communities with half the funding?” he said.

BPNC proposed a plan which would step up programs, including new money to bring CeaseFire to the community.

A better path

The group’s youth programming is “very effective,” said Esteban Salazar, who will be a senior at Kelly this fall.  Before getting involved, “I was on a bad path,” he said.  “I was hanging around with gangs, hanging around with crews, involved with drugs and alcohol, doing violence.”

He’s left all those things behind, and he now plans to study auto mechanics for a year after graduating high school, then go to college for mechanical engineering.

“They teach us to be a better person, and they do it by having fun,” he said of the program.  They’ve volunteered at food pantries and other community sites, visited colleges, met with elected officials.  Salazar was surprised to find himself in a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden recently, he said.

The group also organizes an annual violence prevention youth summit.

Back in school

Others have benefited just as much, Salazar said.  “There are kids who are in school who wouldn’t be without the program,” he said.

Wednesday night, Jacqueline Cruz testified about the impact of the youth mentoring program.  “I was a troubled youth,” she said.  “I would cut school and only want to be in the streets.  But I’ve been attending school every day and my grades are A’s and B’s.  And I even have a job.”

She added:  “We don’t want to see a program that has benefited many of us in a positive way to be taken away from us.”

Mark Bachleda, part of the Parent Leadership Action Network, spoke of going door-to-door to reach out to parents struggling to raise adolescents, and called on elected officials who were present to “help us make a difference.”

Hundreds of at-risk students at Kelly High and seven elementary schools have been helped through school-based counseling, said Janeth Herrera.

Annual gaps

Constant shifts and annual gaps in program funding create huge difficulties, Brosnan said.  “Last year we had to lay off the whole counseling staff [when funding ran out] at the end of June,” he said.  “We found out at the end of August that funding was restored and we had to hire a whole batch of new people.”

Such gaps can have serious effects, said Patterson, a former CeaseFire coordinator.  “We created a ceasefire between two groups of guys who were doing most of the killings” in Uptown several years ago, he said.  “Now since CeaseFire is no longer on the street, they’ve started shooting each other again.”

ICJIA is aware of the work being done by community groups and sensitive to their concerns, said spokesperson Cristin Evans.  “We’re still working with the governor’s office to determine the most effective use of funds, given the reduction in the funding level,” she said.

An unsafe park

The biggest demonstration of support Wednesday – the audience erupted in chants — was for BPNC’s campaign to restore Kelly Park, across the street from the high school.  “Where are our representatives?” asked Silvia Torres, contrasting the $3 million project to the $30 million TIF subsidy for a plaza at a downtown riverfront development.

(It may be worth noting that the city funding for a wealthy Loop developer is twice the amount of state funding now budgeted for scores of community organizations fighting to keep young people alive.)

Kelly Park’s playing field is studded with rocks and concrete and a portion of it with poor drainage “becomes a swamp in the spring,” said Sara Reschly, BPNC’s Safety Net Works coordinator.  And it’s laid out in a baseball diamond, while the high school needs it for football and soccer.

Kellly High has a championship soccer team, but has had to travel a mile away to McKinley Park to play.  But that’s “not safe for all the players,” because it crosses gang boundaries, she said.

Last year one team member was jumped and beaten while walking with his family in the parking lot before a game, she said, and at another game, a “masked person” threatened to kill the team members and the coach if they came back to the park.

Residents oppose demolitions Fri, 13 Jul 2012 02:26:38 +0000 Mayor Emanuel has begun demolishing vacant buildings in his newest anti-crime effort, but an organization of residents in the affected communities says it won’t work — and there are better ways to deal with vacant buildings.

Action Now will hold a press conference in front of a vacant lot at 53rd and Laflin, Friday, July 13 at 10 a.m., to call on the city to stop demolition and instead use the new Chicago Infrastructure Trust to rehab and rent vacant buildings.

“Vacant lots are not any less dangerous than vacant buildings, and demolishing [buildings] won’t solve the crime problem,” said spokesperson Aileen Kelleher.

She points to the shooting Tuesday of a 14-year-old boy standing in a vacant lot in Roseland.  Last year Action Now held a protest in Humboldt Park at a vacant lot – left unsecured by mortgage holder Chase Bank — where a woman was raped.

One solution is stepped-up enforcement of the vacant properties ordinance, she said.

“If the city had held banks accountable with the vacant properties ordinance – if the banks had kept these properties up and secured them – we wouldn’t be at this point,” said Charles Brown, chair of Action Now’s neighborhood revitalization committee, which developed the Rebuild Chicago plan to finance rehab and rental.  (See yesterday’s post.)

The vacant properties ordinance requires mortgage lenders to maintain and secure properties that have been vacated during the foreclosure process.

A retired police officer and longtime Englewood resident, Brown worked to have two vacant homes on his block demolished several years ago.  It wasn’t a real solution, he now says.

“Now we’ve got these big holes on the block,” he said.  “It creates a crime scene.”  And if no one tends the land, weed and trash-strewn lots “bring down the appearance of the neighborhood.”

On the next block is a row of vacant buildings.  “If you tear them down you’ll just have a huge vacant lot that will attract crime.”  Meanwhile, “working families are being forced out of my neighborhood.”

That’s why he’s pushing the Rebuild Chicago plan.  “We shouldn’t be spending money demolishing buildings; we should be rehabbing them and providing housing,” he said.

Brown and other Action Now members met with mayoral staff to discuss the plan this week, he said.

Under the plan detailed by Action Now, the $4 million set aside by Emanuel to demolish or secure 200 buildings would be enough to provide city financing to rehab and reoccupy more than 200 buildings in moderate disrepair.

The Chicago Rehab Network has called on the city to make housing an eligible use for revenue generated by the infrastructure trust, said executive director Kevin Jackson.  He points out that after a ten-year push by CRN and others, the state included housing in its latest capital budget.

“We need to view housing as basic infrastructure,” he said.

Jackson sees echoes of the past in the mayor’s demolition program.  “Every decade or so there’s this idea that if we just tear down buildings we can clear away all these problems,” he said.