560. Since January of this year there have been 560 recorded homicides in the city of Chicago – greater than those of New York and Los Angeles combined. The month of August alone saw the highest murder count per month in over 20 years. Homicide has become tragically viral, spreading throughout the south and west side neighborhoods of Chicago like a plague. The impact of such widespread violence has penetrated the Chicago Public School (CPS) system in a profound way, victimizing low-income, segregated neighborhoods in particular.
In a desperate attempt to halt the violence, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has called for a crusade of sorts to provide young people in these neighborhoods with “a moral compass”. Last week, USA Today outlined Emmanuel’s proposal to hire 1,000 new officers and direct city funding to the Becoming A Man (BAM) mentoring program in order to help over 7,000 youth in the CPS system overcome this treadmill of violence. While some argue that re-upping the Chicago police force is no panacea, the BAM mentoring program has the potential to serve a crucial audience, the CPS student youth population.
The victims that this violence impacts are disproportionately low-income, black young men, 47% of whom ages 20-24, are neither in school nor employed. The sad truth is that violence in these neighborhoods clearly resonates within the local schools. A US News article recently cited multiple bodies of research suggesting that community violence reduces children’s attention spans, negatively impacts the way they process emotional information, and dramatically decreases scores on standardized tests. It notes the decreased ability of children to safely travel to and from school, a problem it suggests is remedied by local volunteer-led programs like Safe Passage and BAM. While BAM provides counseling and healthy decision-making models to at-risk students in schools, Safe Passage places over 1,000 volunteers at high crime locations in order to deter criminal activity and provide students safe travel to and from schools.
Emmanuel’s support for BAM did not come in the wake of these studies. In fact, the second term mayor of Chicago has received harsh criticism for this decision, citing that this move was made in order to preserve what few black Chicagoan votes he has. His critics are quick to point out his inability to acknowledge that the impoverished communities are the result of the circular crime wave and it’s direct impact on learning within schools. The implementation of programs such as BAM and Safe Passage do little to impact policy decisions. Rather they develop much needed engagement within the communities and the schools themselves, providing young black men in particular the agency to determine their own future.
As the coverage points out, the $36 million investment in BAM is only part of the solution: active community engagement with programs such as Safe Passage is a necessary supplement. There is no single solution to quell the violence and provide safe learning environments for Chicago’s youth, the situation requires a dual, government-community effort.
Chicago Tribune. Crime in Chicagoland. September, 2016 Homicide Count. Retrieved from http://crime.chicagotribune.com/chicago/homicides
Madhani, Aamer. USA Today. Emanuel: Violence-plagued Chicago needs to bolster ‘moral compass’. September 23, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/09/22/emanuel-violence-plagued-chicago-needs-bolster-moral-compass/90872358/
Camera, Lauren. US News. Chicago Violence an Extracurricular Back to School Burden. September 8th, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-08/chicago-violence-an-extracurricular-back-to-school-burden