Notes on Crime | Bleader

Friday, September 3, 2010

Notes on Crime

Posted By on 09.03.10 at 03:06 PM

John Kass turns in a thoughtful column on the now-infamous "gang news conference" addressing the also-infamous CPD-gangs sitdown. He describes it as ultimately pretty pointless, but some reasonable points were made:

"The kids respect finance, they respect the dollar," said Berry. "And they see us older guys who can't get jobs, we've been job-trained to death but we can't find work, and they don't listen."

He's not altogether wrong about that. I was immediately reminded of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein's recent Chicago Reporter cover story on the difficulties faced by job-training programs that train people for jobs that don't actually exist:

Washington has never held a full-time job that paid with a check. In order to find a job he so covets, he reads the paper Employment Source because it “shows me what’s there,” he said. He knows few people in North Lawndale with jobs, and, thus far, networking has yielded no results.

The numbers are pretty staggering:

In 2008, 18,600 of the 35,700 people between ages 16 and 30 in a census region that includes East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park had not worked during the previous five years or longer, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of census data.

The figure of 52 percent was the nation’s highest.

Greg Hinz is a bit more of a dick about it:

Another part of it, I suspect, has to do with the breakdown of the social structure in some poor neighborhoods.

Yes, liberals, admit the truth: The lack of family structure and churches does make a difference.

It's funny he should mention that. I was just sitting here thinking how great it is that some of these people don't have fathers.

I can't think about social collapse in Lawndale without thinking of Beryl Satter's 2009 masterpiece Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, which details how poor government policy and discriminatory, fraudulent real estate practices tore apart the social fabric in the neighborhood:

Satter's book is, in part, a quest to understand her father, Mark J. Satter, who was both a crusading white lawyer fighting against stacked odds on behalf of exploited African-American home buyers and a Lawndale landlord—the owner of four apartment buildings that proved to be the financial ruin of his family. Thoroughly documented and totally readable, it's the story of a man who alienated conservatives and liberals alike by trying to stop the Federal Housing Administration's redlining of black and racially changing neighborhoods, along with the contract sellers who exploited it. According to Mark Satter, slums grew and became entrenched not because of poverty but because there was so much easy money to be made from them.

While white home buyers could find affordable, government-insured mortgages, blacks in densely packed neighborhoods on the west and south sides couldn't. They had to get private financing—contracts, not mortgages—on extremely unfavorable terms. Contract sellers bought ghetto or changing-neighborhood property on the cheap, sold it at huge markups, charged exorbitant interest, and saddled buyers with near-impossible debt. A single missed payment could mean eviction.


Satter says that what we've seen lately is "all the same stuff that was going on in the 1950s and 1960s—the same collusion between appraisers, sellers, and mortgage lenders," the same pattern of flipping properties for rapid profit, and the same hard-sell techniques that load buyers with more debt than they can handle. She watched with "shock and horror" as the subprime crisis unfolded on "a much more massive scale" than the contract-selling scandal.

And there's still the racial bias, nationally. The NAACP, she notes, "is now suing HSBC and Wells Fargo, charging that blacks with higher incomes and better credit were charged higher interest rates for subprime loans than lower-income, poor-credit whites."

You should really read the book, but if you can't read, I recommend Andrew Patner's interview (go here, search for Satter).

These sorts of real estate practices not only caused instability in the neighborhood, they also represented a massive transfer of wealth from it, which would be followed by the slow collapse of the American manufacturing industry:

And there has been a major shift in where African Americans are working. Gone are the days when a vast majority of blue-collar black workers held jobs in manufacturing, transportation and other manual, low-skilled industries. In manufacturing, for instance, the Reporter analysis shows that there were more than 57,000 fewer black Chicago workers in 2000 than in 1980-a 64 percent decline.

Meanwhile, many of these families started moving into public housing, which leads me to another book you should read, D. Bradford Hunt's Blueprint For Disaster. For all the problems with public housing in Chicago, what Hunt identifies as the biggest is interesting and surprising:

Amid all the unemployment, poverty, and broken families, the institutional racism, political corruption, and bureaucratic incompetence, Hunt believes he's found a relatively simple answer to the question of what went wrong with public housing in Chicago: too many kids. Taking into account all the other influences, he says, that was the single most important factor. The decisions that put multibedroom apartments filled with youngsters into hard-to-access towers were the CHA's blueprint for disaster.


The devil is in "the policy choices." The projects became ungovernable because there weren't enough adults, he says. "This concentration of people under 21 years old was unprecedented in the urban experience."

Speaking of the kids, the Chicago Reporter's latest issue has an excellent cover package on youth felons:

A Chicago Reporter analysis of court data found that 17-year-olds convicted of felonies defy the perception of some that these teens are violent criminals who deserve to be punished alongside adults. A majority, 54 percent, of 17-year-olds prosecuted in Cook County’s adult courts were convicted for drug deals and property theft alone, according to the analysis.

Of all the convictions, 58 percent were for nonviolent offenses. Include robbery without a gun, and nonviolent offenses are 71 percent of all convictions. The single largest number of convictions was based on low-level drug offenses.

An overwhelming majority of these 17-year-olds, like Reed, are black—77 percent. And most hail from just five impoverished areas, some of which are home to the highest long-term unemployment rates in the country—including Austin, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, Roseland and West Englewood.

What happens when people go to prison in America? Atlantic reporter (and, full disclosure, my good friend) Graeme Wood writes in his recent story on electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarceration:

The vogue for incarceration might also make sense if the prisons repaid society’s investment by releasing reformed inmates who behaved better than before they were locked up. But that isn’t the case either: half of those released are back in prison within three years. Indeed, research by the economists Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago and M. Keith Chen of Yale indicates that the stated purpose of incarceration, which is to place prisoners under harsh conditions on the assumption that they will be “scared straight,” is actively counterproductive. Such conditions—and U.S. prisons are astonishingly harsh, with as many as 20 percent of male inmates facing sexual assault—typically harden criminals, making them more violent and predatory. Essentially, when we lock someone up today, we are agreeing to pay a large (and growing) sum of money merely to put off dealing with him until he is released in a few years, often as a greater menace to society than when he went in.

The Chicago Reporter cover story, by Angela Caputo, notes that 99 percent (!) of all 17-year-olds charged with felonies in Cook County plead guilty, and that more than half of those convicted went to prison.

I do agree with Hinz that Weis and the CPD are bearing too much of the burden for what's incorrectly perceived as an unusually violent summer. The roots of city violence are deep, and the police are left to tend to their bitter fruit.

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