Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Evanston Violence

I posted the following over on the Nextdoor board for my neighborhood, edited here for context:

Evanston has a serious gang problem.

There are many single, younger parents (mostly mothers) who are raising teenagers without much help from family or the community. These are women in their 30's who never had the education opportunities that most middle class high schoolers have. They didn't have the money or the grades for college, and were probably stuck in the same situation as their kids are now. One of the gang members I know was living in Skokie with his mother and her boyfriend in a small apartment. The boyfriend (who is an old friend of mine) tried to support them and find work and better living arrangements. The mother got fired from lower than minimum wage jobs where the owners/managers were only interested in exploiting people and making more money. She had to attend endless court cases at Cook County to keep her son out of jail. She couldn't afford transportation to court, couldn't afford to miss work, and had a hard time dealing with all of that stress. She was on the edge of a breakdown, and had no support. She doesn't know her extended family well (a few distant aunts and uncles in Tennessee and Kentucky) and really had no help at all except what she can get from men who would take advantage of her situation. Her son, who the Evanston and Skokie police know pretty well by now, got into trouble by being young, jobless, out of school (he's 18 or 19) and living in an area saturated by small gang offshoots who's territories are constantly changing. It was the same way when I was in high school. There were countless small gangs with 4-5 members who claimed allegiance to a bigger gang, or were hoping to align with a bigger gang in order to get drugs to sell, guns for protection, and protection from other gangs. Some of the small time gang members are just there for their peers. At that age it's difficult to choose your friends. Your friends are the peers who accept you, and that's pretty much all you get. Anyhow, this kid got involved with a girl who lived in an area claimed by one of these small gang offshoots. Unknown to him at the time, that was a death warrant. That could have been someone's sister or cousin, doesn't matter. The gang decided they had to shoot him on the street. He and his group of 3 or 4 friends from high school were getting shot at, and sometimes hit by this gang. So they started their own gang so they could get some strength in numbers, align with a bigger gang and maybe get some support from the older, more established gangbangers.
There are no jobs for these guys, no programs they want to get involved in, no activities they can afford to get interested in, just the promise of making money selling drugs and the protection of cheap guns and a bigger 'family' of gangbangers.
This situation is out of the mother's control now, and the boyfriend had to stop supporting them because the kid was getting too crazy, stealing stuff from the apartment and getting in more trouble with his friends. He can't get a job because if the other gang finds out where he is, they'll go shoot him. His only option is to hide out with his friends, stay on the move in a very small area and hope the other gang gets locked up or killed. He's got no family he can escape to out of state, no other support besides his peers who are in the same situation.
I hope this little window into this kid and his mother's life makes it clearer what's going on here with all the shooting. If we don't provide any opportunities for people to improve their lives, they're going to get stuck in this cycle of violence, drugs, and getting stuck in a legal system they can't afford.

Take a look at the types of guns turning up in arrests lately. These are mostly low cost, extremely low quality Walmart specials. These are "Ring of Fire" guns, mostly from Irvine, CA companies operating under a bunch of different brand names over the last 30 years that built the lowest cost guns for people who wanted cheap personal protection. Saturday night specials die cast in ZAMAK. These are not bought by responsible gun owners. They easily slip through the cracks and find their way to the street. Every time someone breaks into a home they're looking for anything they can fit into a backpack or suitcase: the cheap guns people buy for bedside protection, jewelry, watches, game systems, cash and change. People who buy crappy guns and then let them lay around the house to get stolen are feeding this system. Lock them up, or better yet, turn them in for $100 bucks (much more than they're worth at a pawn shop) and let the police pick them up and crush 'em.

Let's ask the city, ask the local government what they're doing about these problems. We still need to keep the community and police forces engaged and communicating, but these problems start outside of the reach of either. For one thing, we have lost so much beneficial industry in this area where trade skills were needed.
 Strange Engineering moved to Morton Grove, their old factory turned into expensive lofts by Renaissance Realty. Shure Microphones HQ moved to Niles IL. Klein Tools moved to Texas.
Most of the careers in Evanston now are in Education (Northwestern) and Healthcare (also Northwestern). Most of the jobs near the median income in Evanston (~$60k) require at least college education if not a master's degree. While some of the neighborhoods have improved esthetically by some standards, there is not much economic benefit to the areas that need it most. Chicago "solved" its housing problems by leveling the projects and pushing people out to the oil and gas wastelands of the south shore. We need better solutions and better ideas than just building more and more restaurants and retail shops for higher tax revenues. There's a serious problem and scaling up is not going to make it go away.