There can be no justice in raised bridges
“Consequences” is the word of the week. Mayor Lori Lightfoot demanded that consequences — in the form of swift prosecution — be imposed on those arrested for looting our downtown. Without consequences, we’re told, “these criminals” will just do it again.
Without the fear of incarceration, we are told, more brazen crime will be committed by Black youth from poor neighborhoods. We’re also told that if we don’t demand consequences, we’re condoning looting and cheapening the important work done by peaceful activists.
It’s explained to us that it’s hard to have compassion for looters because their response to the violence of systemic racism and inequality is illegal, and it is violent.
These are false choices aimed at dividing us. It is possible to be concerned about the despair and frustration that has brought some people to the point of looting and also support the peaceful movement toward equality in the face of a government that has left communities to fend for themselves during the worst possible circumstances. A government that is literally battening down the hatches and pulling up the bridges in a stark symbol of a segregated, divided Chicago.
Let’s get a few things straight. Incarceration is a consequence that is not all that effective. According to the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Illinois Justice Project, nearly 40% of people go back to prison within three years, and Black and Brown young men have been telling us for years that many grow up with the certainty that they will go to prison some day. Their childhood and adolescence is marked by the knowledge that the future is bleak, and there are few ways out.
How should they think any differently when politicians are clamoring to put them and their friends away in press conferences, on social media, and on the evening news?
The primary reason formerly incarcerated people recidivate is that when they get out, there aren’t adequate supports in their communities to enable them to find housing, employment and safety. COVID-19 has driven the unemployment rate to an all-time high, with the worst effects in Black and Brown communities on the South and West sides.
One University of Chicago scholar is predicting that as many as 42% of layoffs during the pandemic will be permanent. Unless Chicago’s plan is to lock people up and throw away the key, we need to start addressing these root causes with as much fervor as we have when our own fortunes are threatened. Otherwise the consequences will be ours to bear.
Bridges across the Chicago River were raised to control access into downtown after widespread looting.