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Y’all, the city of Chicago just basically banned Black kids from coming downtown.
I recently wrote about an increase in violence in the economic centers of major cities and how socioeconomic bias drives prevention and intervention priorities and strategies. Chicago is one of those cities with recurring meetups of massive crowds wreaking havoc downtown.
This past weekend was no different. Groups of predominantly Black youth descended on the downtown area again and there were a series of shootings, one of which involved the killing of a 16-year-old student at one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, “The Bean” at Millenium Park.
On Sunday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a statement and policy banning unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 from Millenium Park Thursday through Sunday after 6 PM. She said, “We, as a City, can not allow any of our public spaces to become platforms for danger. Anyone coming into our public spaces should expect to enjoy them peacefully and must respect and exhibit basic community norms of decency.”
I wholeheartedly agree with the statement above–we cannot allow crime and violence to continue to permeate public spaces and threaten the safety of constituents or visitors. As a Chicagoan and homeowner, I don’t condone this behavior, I’m overly concerned about the rising crime rates and the wellness of our youth and communities.
And yeah, we all want resolve and peace, but this ban does absolutely nothing to address the cancer that is crime and gun violence. In fact, it’s just another assault on low-income, Black communities.
City’s unequal response to violence, protests
Now let me state for the record that no qualifying language has been used to oust these young people except for “unaccompanied minors under the age of 18”. But if you live in Chicago or have been keeping up with the news, you can see that these crowds of kids have for the most part been Black, and therefore, these policies are for them.
Blocking access to public spaces isn’t new. It happened in 2020 when bridges were raised to keep people from protesting and looting downtown after George Floyd’s murder. And in 2019, I held an action in response to the Chicago Police Department blocking entry points to parks and beaches in predominantly Black neighborhoods on the Southside.
Already burdened with violence, blight, food and health insecurity, some of these young people – and adults – go downtown to access amenities that aren’t offered in their neighborhoods. So, not only are we losing access to free and public space again, we’re also having our quality of life diminished and dealing with all-out segregation.
Ban will further perpetuate segregation
Administering this ban to curb crime downtown does nothing but redirect and concentrate chaos in our already violence-plagued and historically neglected communities, further endangering the lives of and instilling greater fear in law-abiding citizens.
Also, Chicago is one of the most notoriously segregated cities in the country made possible by housing, schooling and transportation redlining. This ban will not only further perpetuate segregation, but it’ll also give people the green light to marshal their communities, thus confining certain youth solely to their “part of the city”.
Let’s be honest. If the mayor of Chicago puts this ban into effect at Millennium Park, any gatherings in other neighborhoods (outside of the ones they live in) by “certain youth”, will be monitored and scrutinized excessively. This puts them at risk of being stereotyped and harassed just because they fit the description of “certain youth”.
It’s segregation. Millenium Park and other affluent neighborhoods might as well be called modern sundown towns.
Chicago doesn’t invest in Black communities
Social media has been ablaze with questions from people. Where are these kids’ parents? Why won’t the city create more spaces and programs for youth so they won’t have to gather downtown as much? Who’s to blame for this???
Here’s the hard truth. One, some of these parents are disengaged–busy trying to provide for their children and largely absent from their day-to-day lives. Or, they’re pretty much willfully negligent as hell and enabling the troublesome behavior.
Secondly, the city won’t create more spaces and programs for youth because it doesn’t want to. That’s evident in a national decrease in accessibility to afterschool/summer programming, a track record of ignored and dismissed capital improvement requests for parks in Black and Brown neighborhoods in Chicago and again, overall economic disinvestment in low-income communities.
Who’s fault is it? All of ours.
It’s bogus as hell that the city of Chicago is banning Black kids from downtown. We can complain about what the city isn’t doing and what it’s taken from our kids and call it racism. We can point the finger at and shame the parents. But if we stand back and witness the destruction of our kids without taking action, what happens to them and our communities is our fault, too.