There can be no jus­tice in raised bridges

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - Send let­ters to let­ters@sun­times.com. Ald. By­ron Sig­cho-Lopez (25th)

“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.

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