“In Chicago, homicide rates correspond with segregation”

Whether exacerbated by gangs or guns, though, Chicago’s killings are happening on familiar turf: Its poor, extremely segregated neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. And many say that is Chicago’s real violence issue.

“Where do gangs come from? They tend to take root in the very same neighborhoods that drive these other problems,” said Robert J. Sampson, a professor at Harvard and the author of “Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.” “You can’t divorce the gang problem from the problem of deep concentrations of poverty.”

“What predicts violent crime rates is concentrated poverty and neighborhood disadvantage, and what determines concentrated poverty is high levels of black segregation combined with high levels of black poverty,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociology professor at Princeton University.

In Chicago, homicide rates correspond with segregation. While many areas have few or no killings, the South and West Sides are on par with the world’s most dangerous countries, like Brazil and Venezuela, and have been for many years.

The linkage of segregation, poverty and crime exists in New York City as well. Homicides occur at higher rates in parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Harlem, and many other neighborhoods are virtually free of killings.

But segregation in New York is nothing like in Chicago: The perfectly isolated neighborhood – where every man, woman and child is the same race – is rare in New York. Less than one percent of the population lives in such areas, and most of them are white. In Chicago, 12 percent of the black population is in a census block group that is 100 percent black.

Racially segregated minority neighborhoods have a long history of multiple adversities, such as poverty, joblessness, environmental toxins and inadequate housing, Professor Sampson said. In these places, people tend to be more cynical about the law and distrust police, “heightening the risk that conflictual encounters will erupt in violence.”

“The major underlying causes of crime are similar across cities, but the intensity of the connection between social ills and violence seems to be more persistent in Chicago,” Professor Sampson said. “You don’t get that kind of extensive social and economic segregation in many other cities.”

– From a recent Times article, “Chicago’s Murder Problem.” 

Segregation, Poverty, and White Amnesia

Racial segregation devastates Black communities. Who’s responsible?

The forgetful quality of whiteness is evident in the way that people who live far enough from Chicago’s violence feel no responsibility for the men and women who are killed here every day. 2016 has thus far been the most violent year in Chicago “for at least 16 years,” but because the victims and their neighborhoods are Black and Brown, white people think and feel very little about these lost lives. We feel no shame. For all kinds of reasons – moral, historical, and sociological – this lack of responsibility and accountability is completely wrong.

Recent studies by the Chicago Urban League and American University show the extent to which Chicago remains a segregated city. Though the dramatic white flight of previous generations is now rare, the American University study demonstrates some of the subtler ways that segregation is perpetuated by white people. For example,

The mechanism that creates gradual racial succession, we believe, is whites’ avoidance of neighborhoods with more than a few minorities. Whites’ tolerance of integration that occurs when minorities move to their neighborhoods does not extend to a desire for integrated neighborhoods. Whites know less about and are resistant to considering neighborhoods with more than a token number of minorities.

The segregation that is created by white people’s intolerance has destructive implications far beyond the demographic makeup of a particular neighborhood. As a 2011 article in The Chicago Reader stated:

Because of historical—and some continuing—discrimination, blacks are more likely to be poor. When this is combined with segregation, it means blacks are far more likely than any other group to live in concentrated poverty. It’s hard to be poor; it’s much harder to be poor and surrounded by poverty and all the harmful cultural norms and behavior, such as crime, that accompany it. It’s a kind of poverty whites rarely experience, and one tough to escape.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that this concentrated poverty – fostered by what the Urban League calls “racial residential segregation” – undermines the quality of life among the residents of those neighborhoods. Compared to children in higher socioeconomic neighborhoods, the children who reside in segregated neighborhoods are more likely to have poorer math and literacy achievement, lower test scores, higher dropout rates, and lower graduation rates. These children will also struggle more with mental health, have higher rates of acting out in school, are more likely to be unemployed, and have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Adults are also impacted, with higher reported cases of obesity and diabetes, more cases of mental illness, less food security, and higher rates of unemployment.

These “racially concentrated area[s] of poverty,” as the Urban League report calls Chicago’s segregated neighborhoods, are the result of many historic and systemic realities. Any hope of holistically addressing segregation will take these complicated factors seriously. But the entrenched and complex nature of segregation should never distract from its simplest cause: White people choose not to live near Black people.

Because segregation disproportionately impacts poor, urban, African American communities, it’s easy for white people to remain ignorant. The Reader article pointed this out: “For most whites, concentrated poverty and its many ills are an abstraction—something they read about but rarely see, since it exists in parts of town they don’t live in or work in or visit.” This ignorance is yet another of segregation’s bitter fruits: Those who bear the greatest responsibility for segregation are the least likely to know that such places even exist.

There is a lot of work to be done to address the evils of segregation and its devastations. But before action comes repentance. And before repentance comes remembering. And this, for white people, might be the hardest work of all.

Header photo: Brandon Harvey.

“If you don’t expect to live past twenty-two…”

Fifty years after King’s visit to Marquette Park, Chicago remains one of the country’s most racially segregated large cities. Redlining is long over, but its legacy is inscribed on the neighborhoods. Some of those areas are poorer than they were at the time of King’s marches. In Englewood, on the South Side, poverty has grown from twenty-seven per cent, in 1970, to forty-eight per cent today. In the past decade and a half, the city knocked down Cabrini-Green, the Robert Taylor Homes, and other poverty-stricken public high-rises, but studies have found that the effort has done little to advance integration by race or income. A 2014 study by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law documented frequent discrimination against those people who try to rent using subsidized vouchers from the Chicago Housing Authority. On the city’s Northwest Side, landlords refused to rent to them fifty-eight per cent of the time. Most of the residents resettled in heavily black, low-income census tracts. Those areas are distinguished by the sheer absence of economic life: few hardware stores, pharmacies, and restaurants, and virtually no banks.

For more than twenty years, Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist, and a team of researchers have conducted a study of human development in Chicago neighborhoods. “The incarceration rate in the highest-ranked black community in Chicago is forty times higher than the incarceration rate in the highest-ranked white community,” he said. “You can’t even compare them.” Sampson’s team visited many cities—including New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans—before choosing Chicago. “If you want to trace across multiple dimensions the legacies of inequality, Chicago is a microcosm of all the things that are bearing down on cities,” Sampson said. His Chicago portrait, “Great American City,” challenges the argument that globalization and technology have flattened boundaries and details how the distance of a few blocks still determines the basic probabilities in life—the chances of hearing a tip on a job prospect, or receiving a first-time loan, or being hit by crossfire. Last year, four hundred and sixty-eight people were killed in Chicago, a higher total than in any other American city, and up thirteen per cent from the previous year. Most were killed in black neighborhoods, where homicide rates are thirteen times higher, on average, than in better-off white areas.

“If you don’t expect to live past twenty-two, then why would you delay gratification for something in the future that may never come?” Sampson said. “That, in turn, influences every big decision.” As early as preschool, the threat or the experience of violence can induce stress that distorts academic performance. The extent to which growing up in a poor black neighborhood in Chicago hampered verbal development was found to be the equivalent of “missing one year of schooling.” Nearly forty-seven per cent of all black men in Chicago between the ages of twenty and twenty-four are neither in school nor working—the highest percentage of any big city. (Nationwide, the figure is thirty-two per cent.)

-“Father Mike” in this week’s New Yorker, a profile about Father Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest who I hold in high respect. The section above details the seemingly impossible situation that Father Mike and so many other Chicago pastors and community leaders have been up against for decades.