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Organizing against violence

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.”

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Back to South Works

In this month’s Progressive, Luis J. Rodriguez accompanies a former steelworker as he returns to Chicago and visits his former place of employment, the old site of South Works.

Near the entrance of the now-razed plant – it once covered 600 acres, had 70 coke ovens, employed nearly 20,000 workers (their softball league had 63 teams) – the two come across a Chicago police officer sitting in his car.  They ask what he’s doing and he says he’s “waiting for the high school kids to come out.”

Says the cop:  “Not much to do here but stop the fights after school.  It’s a daily occurrence.  It never used to be this way.  When the mill was running, there were hardly any gangs.  You had good hard-working families.”

Says Rodriguez, also a former Chicagoan, the largely Mexican community around U.S. Steel “thrived when the blast furnaces and massive forges went at it all day and all night.  In those days, there was little crime, everyone knew each other, most people owned their own homes, maybe two cars.  Now apartments sit empty, many families have moved out, and the Latin Kings and other street associations roam parks and gangways, surviving on drug sales, vice, and robberies…

“Tony and I turned onto Commercial Avenue, the once thriving strip of shops, businesses, and three-story flats.  Tony recalled the annual Christmas parade that brought thousands of people out into the street.”

The two bear witness to “the destruction that capitalism has wrought to many of our once-thriving, working-class communities,” he writes.  “While wealth continues to get accumulated into a smaller and smaller number of hands – helped by government bailouts – our country is rife with communities that have been written off.”

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