Chicago's Same Old Argument: Big Government or Independent Citizens

June 6, 2024

When Chicago voters went to the polls in April 2023, they elected a new mayor, but Chicago is still plagued with the same problems. Chicago’s Mayor Brandon Johnson claimed he had created a safety plan well before this past Memorial Day weekend. Despite his "plan," 41 were shot and 9 were killed over the holiday weekend.

When asked about that weekend’s gun violence, Johnson claimed:

“The past year, we've made tremendous strides in our mission to secure our neighborhoods. Murders are down. Shootings are down. But there's still so much more work to be done.”

WTTW echoed his statement that shootings and homicides are the lowest since 2019. But no one is rejoicing because there is no area across Chicago unaffected by economic woes, homelessness, and illegal migrants. One headline in the Sun-Times summed up the problems found on the Magnificent Mile succinctly: “Michigan Avenue, once a picture-perfect postcard, is now a depressing mess.” In her commentary, writer Carol Felsenthal stated:

“The avenue seems more like a boardwalk than a commercial corridor. I inhale smoke from so much weed I wonder why I don’t feel high. Adults, apparently mentally ill, scream on street corners.”

Then, of course, crime returned to the headlines. Perhaps shootings and homicides are down, but it has been replaced with groups of teens terrorizing unsuspecting people. The latest horror happened this week when a couple, returning from a date night, strolled home in the Streeterville neighborhood. From nowhere a group of teens approached the pair from behind. The group started beating the husband who, in turn, told his wife to run. Unfortunately, members of the group of goons caught up with her, tore a large chunk of hair out of her head and kicked her repeatedly in the abdomen. The female victim lost the baby she was carrying. Assuming, of course, that we are allowed to call a two-week-old pregnancy a baby.

This tragedy resulted in the arrests of only two of the group while the others scattered like cockroaches into the night. One suspect apprehended was found to be only 14; another offender is 17. They have been released from police custody as they await their trial for misdemeanor offenses. Thus, other teens without anything better to do get the message that they, too, can beat random people for amusement and not fear any consequence.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s contention that disinvestment in poverty ridden communities has brought about this behavior rings hollow. These juvenile delinquents found some way to gather in Streeterville, an area not within those targeted by Johnson’s safety plan (e.g. Englewood and Austin). This particular group of teens were neither interested in robbing the couple nor did they pounce on the pair for the purpose of stealing food or water. What we can glean from this incident is roving groups of teens delivering a pummeling on defenseless people has become mere sport.

Moreover, prior to Memorial Day weekend, Johnson announced his safety plan which included the hiring of 100 trained peacekeepers whose goal is to keep themselves and other young people safe. Explaining his decision, Johnson said: “For too long, young people have been on the outskirts of hope, but now, we are bringing them into the circle of opportunity.”

Like a broken record, Mayor Johnson continues to make statements about how Chicago’s disadvantaged are only in need of equitable opportunity, and they would not be predisposed to shoot, rob, or gang up like animals and assault innocents walking home before 9 p.m. in Streeterville.

If Mayor Johnson is seeking out solutions to crime and interested in creating "circles of opportunity," he would be best served to focus some attention on West Woodlawn. An area long ignored by previous mayors, Pastor Corey Brooks of New Beginnings Church and Project H.O.O.D raised over $30 million to build a leadership and economic community center he hoped would be debt free. The reason he and the community need this facility has nothing to do with personal vanity and everything to do with expanding the Project H.O.O.D program. They are simply bursting at the seams in New Beginnings Church. At 67th and King Drive, a large crane hovers over the massive concrete structure as the vision of one man and the hope of many is being realized.

It would seem Pastor Brooks and Mayor Johnson’s share the same vision for the future. Both Brooks and Johnson want an end to Chicago’s intractable violence. Both Brooks and Johnson also believe that opportunities need to be available in neighborhoods besieged by violence, especially for those with a criminal past. Brooks and the mayor both aim to provide a way forward for young people of color. However, the difference between how to solve the neighborhood's problems is stark.

Mayor Johnson is a believer in big government and exorbitant government spending. Pastor Brooks, in contrast, believes that one teaches a man to fish in order to be less reliant on government. This dichotomy is the root of issues between the two.

Why does this matter? Under Bidenomics, inflation has caused the price of building materials to climb dramatically. The initial bid of $35 million to complete the building has ballooned to $40 million. Chicago has millions of dollars in grants available for communities to decrease violence and provide opportunities for youth to avoid the lure of gang life or the cycle of poverty. Yet, because Pastor Brooks does not sing from the Democratic Party hymnal, every application for a city grant has been denied.

Pastor Brooks and the mission of Project H.O.O.D. believe that only through education, entrepreneurship, job skills, youth programs, and violence prevention will there be hope for a change in the neighborhood and individuals escaping from crippling poverty. In other words, Pastor Brooks believes personal industry, not reliance on welfare, is the pathway from the endless cycle of poverty to self-reliance, prosperity, and success.

Increasingly, anger among black Chicagoans has risen with Mayor Johnson, mainly because black Chicagoans have come to realize the mayor’s promises have gone unfulfilled. They feel that the mayor is more concerned with newly arrived illegal immigrants rather than those who have been struggling with poverty for generations. And the fact that he is dismissive of Pastor Brooks and Project H.O.O.D. only amplifies their feelings.

If Mayor Johnson truly believes in making the lives of Chicagoans diverse, inclusive, and equitable, then setting aside politics to provide a few million dollars of grant money to a leadership economic center in Woodlawn would be both practical and wise. Instead, Johnson would rather consider a Chicago Teachers Union demand for an additional $50 billion.

Will Mayor Johnson truly focus on the people he claims he wants to help, or will he allow partisan politics to stand in the way of remedy to poverty, violence, and despair?

Pray for a miracle.

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