Tony's Take 14: Chicago is Iraq #Chiraq

Chicago is a well known city world class city with many names: “Chi-Town”, “Chi-City”, “The Chi”, “The Windy City”, or “Second City.” Here is the latest offering that seems more fitting: “Chi-raq.” Whatever you decide to call the nation's third largest city, just know that it is in a CRISIS.

The opening-

The name Chiraq has been affectionately adopted by many youth who may or may not be involved in the gang violence that has plagued Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs for many years. But as I have said for many a time now a name is more than a name. Chiraq is nick named after the war torn Middle Eastern country Iraq. For now, it will keep that dirty stain until things here improve dramatically.

I don’t know why I didn’t touch on this subject in depth sooner. Was it because the violence didn’t meet the criteria of track and field or cross country? I don’t know… I received a text from a coaching colleague that read: “Adam Lara, a runner for Lake View, was shot and killed yesterday.” I didn’t know Adam but I knew his father Uriel. And that hit home hard. It finally dawned on me to say something.

I often hear people laugh about how soft the north side of the city is, but those comments could not be further from the truth. Recently, a young man named Will Lewis was gunned down waiting for a bus to go to work in a nice working class neighborhood in Rogers Park near Loyola University.  Will was not some 18-year gangbanger waiting for revenge to be bestowed upon him. He was 28 and married. He was ready to start a family.

I used to live down the street from this man. I recall running past the same spot many times during my workouts. I could have easily been the target.

These are personal disclaimers that I offer in an editorial void of the usual rants of high school track and field. I will caution to say that my concern of what is going on in the city is front and center.

From Al Capone to corruption to downright craziness-

But what I do know is Chicago is a dangerous and at times an unloving city to live in. That image was birth back in the 1920’s and 1930’s when outlaw gangs famously led by Al Capone during the Prohibition era ruled the streets. As time went on, that image never abandoned the cultural identity of Chicago. The civil rights era of the 1960s produced the Black Power  movement which spawned the vicelords and gangster disciples of today.

Chicago is also known for super high taxes and political corruption- a perfect breeding ground for money hungry and selfish policy makers that have personal agendas. And it is the little guy that suffers the most. Look at how the infrastructure, schools, and way of life of lifelong city residents have suffered as a result. Do you think the city is much better off now than it was in 1992 comparatively speaking?

Many folks probably don’t know that I came to Chicago via career and family choice. After attending and graduating from Indiana State University, I was ticketed for New York City. I had already spent ample time in Florida and I did not want to go back live with my family in the Miami area. I knew that I could make it happen in the Big Apple with my connections there… until the pending birth of my first child Sahara I decided that Chicago was the responsible choice.

My first real job was as a gang specialist. I worked on the Westside of Chicago for over eight years with some of the toughest young people in the city. From1993-2001 the city had experienced some of its roughest times. For instance, 1994 was a tough year. There were over 900 murders documented, gang violence was at an all-time high, and I lost several youth that I worked to such nonsense.

So as you can see I have been in Chicago for quite a while now. In fact I’ve lived in Chicago and now Evanston more than any other city in my life.  So what I say is more certified than gold.

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Miami, Florida, Brooklyn, New York… even Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Indiana, are some of the places that I have lived and rested my head in many occasions. But Chicago is the place in me now… and I want my adopted hometown to change and get better.
Divine powers have made this place “Chi-beria” for a reason-

Some people do not believe in divine power, but there has to be a reason why Chicago is incredibly cold and frozen for the first three months of every year now. The harsh winters can remind you of Siberia because of the snow and frigid climes. Heck it was unseasonably cold reaching into May. The cooler the temps the less crime is documented. This of course unofficial wisdom, but common sense tells me more bad things usually happen when it’s warmer out. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his cronies have lauded that Chicago murders are down but as of July 15 there are 207 murders in the books.

Numbers can lie sometimes-

Documented murders in the past 22 years (from the City of Chicago official crime statistician):

1992: 943 , 1993: 855, 1994: 931, 1995: 828, 1996: 796, 1997: 761, 1998: 704, 1999: 643, 2000: 633, 2001: 667, 2002: 656, 2003: 601, 2004: 453, 2005: 451, 2006: 471, 2007: 448, 2008: 513, 2009: 459, 2010: 436, 2011: 435, 2012: 516, 2013: 415

From looking at the raw numbers it would be easy to dismiss crime as being a bigger problem now as opposed to the early 1990’s. The documented number of murders has steadily declined since the high water mark of 943 in 1992. Only 415 murders were reported last year, the lowest number in decades. Some critics will say ‘what’s the problem?’ The problem is the violence has spread out from the traditional “hoods” of the south and west sides into areas of the more affluent north and northwest sides.

If you recall the majority of crime from the ‘90s came from gang and drug infested housing projects. Former Mayor Richard Daley executed a long thought up plan to tear all of the projects down and create shattered housing. Many gang leaders went away to prison and the once strong bond they had has been handed to lawless renegades. These so-called “savages” are now dispersed all over the city now. No one is safe anymore.

Do you think the hoods of the south and west sides are the only places of violence and mayhem? Think again. Loons have taken their acts to North Avenue beach and now Montrose beach. There have been daily reports of multiple shootings and robberies at places that are considered safe zones.

What can be done, what should be done to make our streets safe-

An eye for an eye? Tougher gun laws? More marches against violence? The Purge?

I’m not an expert on what exactly should be done.  But I am smart enough to know that our current methods have been largely ineffectual. Chicago would do well to try some new and innovative crime fighting tools. How about taking a page out of the grandest city in the world and a former world cesspool known as New York City?
Let’s take the "Big Apple" for example under the leadership of then mayor Rudy Giuliani. The former “dictator” and presidential candidate cleaned up NYC.

In 1993, Giuliani focused his campaign on quality of life, crime, business and education. The tightly crafted plan made him the 107th Mayor of New York City. In 1997, he was re-elected by a wide margin, carrying four out of NYC's five boroughs.

As Mayor, Giuliani returned accountability to city government and improved the quality of life for all New Yorkers (something that rarely is done for Chicagoans). Under his leadership, overall crime is down 57%, murder has been reduced 65%, and New York City - once infamous around the world for its dangerous streets - has been recognized by the F.B.I. as the safest large city in America for the past ten years. The murder rates also dropped from 2245 in 1990 to 332 in 2013.

New York City's law enforcement strategies have become models for other cities around the world, particularly the CompStat program (also known as the “Broken Windows Policing”), which won the 1996 Innovations in Government Award from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. CompStat allows police to statistically monitor criminal activity on specific street corners as well as citywide, holding precinct commanders accountable for criminal activity in their neighborhoods. Because this data is updated constantly, it enables the police to become a proactive force in fighting crime, stopping crime trends before they become crime waves that negatively affect the quality of life for neighborhood residents.

I personally know friends and family members in New York at the height of the “Broken Windows Policing” feeling a sense of extreme government intrusion into their normal lives. My cousin called them the “Giuliani laws.” In theory it could work in Chicago if everyone is involved.

However, it will take more than community policing to get a once great city back in order. In my opinion there will need to be a major overhaul in a broken system that is overtaxed. Since I love politics as much as I love sports, I took it upon myself to uncover more facts.

When Mayor Giuliani took office, one out of every seven New Yorkers was on welfare. Mayor Giuliani has returned the work ethic to the center of city life by implementing the largest and most successful welfare-to-work initiative in the country, cutting welfare rolls in half while moving over 640,000 individuals from dependency on the government to the dignity of self-sufficiency. In addition, Giuliani has enacted a record of over $2.5 billion in tax reductions - including the commercial rent tax, personal income tax, the hotel occupancy tax, and the sales tax on clothing for purchases up to $110 dollars. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars have been returned to the private sector as a result of the Mayor's aggressive campaign to root out organized crime's influence over the Fulton Fish Market (The Bronx), the private garbage hauling industry, and wholesale food markets throughout the city.

Daley tried to privatize some key public sector works here and that failed. I’m not sure with all of the past corruption that I trust the latest generations of entrepreneurs with my garbage clean up. Not yet anyway unless I see a sound and comprehensive program. If the once corrupt and foul regime of New York can do it so can Chicago.

Lastly, building a viable jobs program for youth could be a paramount step in curbing the violence perpetrated by teens. Again I am not an expert here, but it would make sense to use some of the hundreds of millions of dollars from the private and public sector and invest it back into youth and high school sports and academic programs. Reforms combined by fiscal discipline are the first steps in getting Chicago back on track as one of the world’s great cities to live, work, and play in for all of its citizens and visitors.