Fighting Chicago Violence With A ‘Reverse Exodus’ Into Struggling Neighborhoods | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Fighting Chicago Violence With A ‘Reverse Exodus’ Into Struggling Neighborhoods

In a speech on public safety Thursday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to add hundreds of police officers and spend millions on mentoring young men. Emanuel claimed those measures will help reduce gun violence in Chicago.

But many of the mayor’s critics are skeptical that police officers and mentors will have much of an impact on the number of shootings and murders, both of which have risen to levels not seen since the 1990s.

A Black Lives Matter chapter from Savannah, Ga., has developed its own theory on how to reduce gun violence in Chicago and other large American cities. The group’s research team proposed “social surge theory.” The idea is that getting a large group of clergy, middle and upper-middle class African-Americans and social activists to move to a struggling neighborhood could act as a catalyst to improve the area and reduce crime.

Morning Shift talked with Jomo Kenyatta of Black Lives Matter Savannah and Bill Curry, Chief Program Officer with the Breakthrough Youth Network at Breakthrough Ministries in East Garfield Park about social surge theory.

Jomo Kenyatta of Black Lives Matter Savannah:

Q: What factors of crime are you focused on?

A: We discovered that there are three main factors contributing to a lot of the problems. 1) Preferential policies by local government, or ones that focus on a particular class of people 2) “Black flight” created a black hole in inner city areas where the example of successful African Americans is being taken out. 3) Because of those two things, we’re seeing "wrong sub-culture," which leads to gang violence and which you have African-American and minorities who are more prone to look for various ways to make money illegally because they don’t have the examples of people who don’t do that and don’t have preferential policies that benefit them.

On the component of ‘Black Flight

A: We can look at statistics and research and see that "black flight" in a sense has left these urban areas without the resource builders, economic growers, without people who are successful ... have an education, and therefore you kind of have a second generation who doesn’t have these examples.

We wanted to approach this from not just a white-black perspective, and not just play the role of victims. I myself am African American, and it’s easy for educated African Americans to, once they make it, leave where we came from. And we have the right to do that, but what happens is when we leave, a good example is leaving. Someone who can teach the next generation is leaving. It leaves a great void.

Q: How would it work and who would be involved?

A: It is a mass influx of residents into a particular community most affected by crime … Community leaders would have to come to a consensus that this is a strategy they want to implement. And at that point community leaders would need to target what area they feel is most in need of an intervention. Then there would be a campaign by which residents are called to surge.

Q: How do you convince middle to upper-middle class people, clergy and social activists to move to areas plagued by crime, poor schools?

A: I think persuasion in mass, preaching, organizations speaking consistently and presenting the truth that people like Tyshawn Lee are losing their lives unless there’s an intervention. We need persuasion to show the need for sacrifice.

On Englewood and economic development

A: I think it’s good when you have business coming into neighborhoods … but I think that is not the answer because oftentimes when established or successful businesses come into urban areas, usually that could be the beginning of gentrification. I think a preferred method is when residents can move into those areas and begin to build small business. That way there’s a social, relational and economic connection and staples in the community employing people in the community.

Bill Curry, Chief Program Officer with the Breakthrough Youth Network at Breakthrough Ministries in East Garfield

Q: What are your thoughts on this social surge theory?

A: There are some benefits to my whiteness and some limits to my whiteness as well. I don’t understand the struggle; the economic struggle, or racism, oppression in the same way all my neighbors do. So this concept could be a very powerful one.

Q: What do you bring?

A: Initially I brought  prescriptive problem-solver mentality. Very much top-down. Progressively, over the last 17 years, learned to be a listener. To recognize that the dreams and visions were already there in the neighborhood. I can bring some fresh eyes to an idea, attach to some resources, and help partner up some local dreams with external resources. Ultimately what I can bring is being a neighbor. … Grow relationships. On some days I stick my foot in my mouth and show that I’m not from East Garfield.

Q: What frustrations do you still have?

A: Some would be the fact that I see hundreds of young people every single day on the way to school, teachers in the classrooms busting their tails, I see parents who love their kids, but I still see systemic injustices that they’re forced to live in. Yes, there’s opportunity for some people in our community, but not enough opportunity yet and that’s where Ii think the ‘social surge’ theory could be a real benefit in re-establishing connections.

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