Having recently crossed the 30 year line as a practicing attorney and staying committed throughout my career representing only criminal defendants and victims injured through the wrongs of others, I have learned quite a bit about our city streets, both literally and figuratively. Coupled with my love of politics and that I have lived and worked in Chicago almost my entire life, I feel viscerally connected to the city I love and the one I call home.
Because I am now considered old by law school grads and anyone under the age of 40, many of these young lawyers come to me for counseling on everything from career advice to case specific guidance. Some of these encounters are informational interviews where the prospect knows coming in that he or she will not be hired, but is looking to pick your brain on who might be hiring.
One such recent interview involved a young attorney I’ll call “Adam,” who relocated from Washington D.C. because his wife was hired in our area by a local university. He left his job to follow his wife.
Adam asked all sorts of questions about law firms, agencies and organizations that might fit his skill set. His ONLY interest was being employed by someone or something who was going to make a social difference or policy change. I extended my deep regret that our firm was in the conundrum of being able to use someone of his talents and desire, but we were both hired out and physically out of office space.
Adam went on to explain he would wait as long as necessary to get the right job. He then asked a question I had never been asked: “What was it that I thought could be improved where I live?” He wanted to know my opinion for background as he continued his search.
After pondering for a few moments, I gave him a long answer, which, as it would turn out, was a bellwether to the slaying in Virginia of anchorwoman Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward.
I explained that everything starts with our local and state governments. Both are bad. Bad because they cannot even agree to disagree. Bad because it seems there will be no common ground to be found. Bad because we are a city and state truly in crisis with pension and budget deficits measured in the hundreds of billions. Bad because our sales taxes and property taxes will rise in order to fund our deficits. Bad because our infrastructure continues to age and we are mostly fixing and rehabbing rather than rebuilding. Bad because our national reputation is linked to crooked politicians.
However, even worse, our international representation is now infamously tied to our gun violence. Every day there is a media countdown of the number of homicides within Chicago’s city limits. Even more appalling is the seemingly endless string of shootings which do not end in death, but for one inch to the right or left, you could place that shooting in the homicide column.
I told Adam that this year Chicago has seen more than 2000 non-death related shootings. That’s what’s wrong and that’s what desperately needs to be improved.
He then asked why I think this dire problem exists. Not so simple of an answer when you have two out of our last three governors in jail…and who could count the convicted alderman that have graced City Hall over the past 20 years. I told him the answer was self-dealing. When our elected officials act in concert to protect the community and the citizens they were elected to represent rather than concern themselves with their own wellbeing, then we would get ahead. Until that time, our city and state will continue to suffer and gasp to the point where I feel we will face the same fate as our glaciers.
When it comes to our city, undoubtedly, we are two cities. One encompasses the unmatched skyline; Lake Michigan, Millennium, Grant and Lincoln Parks; world class museums, Rush, Hubbard and Randolph Streets; a brand new Riverwalk; and an elevated park, the “606.” All of these attributes define our Chicago. However, all with the exception of the “606” are within the boundaries of what we call downtown.
Venture outside downtown and soon you will realize the harsh and ugly truth about our beloved City of the Broad Shoulders. We remain one of the most segregated cities in the nation. Invoke the names “West side” or “South side” and immediately the images of poverty, unemployment, racial divide, food deserts, blue lights flashing from above, young African-American men hanging out on street corners, gangs, guns, prostitution, crime – all race and rage through your head.
The sad reality is that too much money continues to pour into the downtown area for obvious reasons. Tourists and conventioneers hang out, eat and sleep downtown. Besides, the wealthy live and work there too. If downtown isn’t safe, will we become Detroit? Can’t let that happen or we’ll lose a substantial tax base, as well as sales and hotel taxes. And if people stop spending their money, then we really are doomed.
As a result, not enough money is spent in the neighborhoods of Austin and Englewood or Grand Crossing where not a day goes by where our youth don’t hear gunfire. We’re not at war, but in a sense we really are. The war won’t stop until our government unites to fix our problems and wake up to the fact that action is needed now, not tomorrow or the week thereafter.
With no money in the neighborhoods, the way of life is about gangs, drugs and guns. That’s a lethal mix. I don’t care what anyone says, but guns in the hands of the wrong do kill with all due respect to the Second Amendment.
So, this all leads us to the Virginia slayings. The parents of Ms. Parker have said publicly that they will do whatever it takes to stop the violence and they publicly shamed government officials who were two-faced about saying they favored gun control, but then cashed checks from the National Rifle Association. Shame well deserved.
I, too, want to be part of those powerful three words – Whatever It Takes. I commend the Parkers for doing something – anything – to ensure their daughter did not die in vain.
Now, ask our governing leaders to do whatever it takes before it’s too late.
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