By John F. Di Leo -
In just the first five months of 2017, there were over 233 murders, and well over 1300 more victims of shootings who survived… in the city of Chicago alone. And almost every day, we see some alderman, mayor or police chief proudly saying that things are getting better – this statistic or that one is improving, so even though we need to get better, we should be happy that our “smart policing” is succeeding so well.
And yes, this is in a city of two and a half million people, in which the spokesmen know these statistics, so they know the city’s on track for over 3000 wounded or killed this year (and remember, not all the woundings get reported).
When there’s a terrorist attack overseas, we hear people like London Mayor Sadiq Khan saying that such dangers are now “part and parcel of living in a world class city,” and our politicians rightly ridicule such an apparently casual acceptance of such risks. But here in the states, we have politicians implying the same about non-terrorist violence – about the gang shootings, domestic abuse, robbery violence and such that makes up the bulk of these 3000 annual victims in Chicago alone.
Have we indeed reached the point at which such a level of violence is to be expected? Have we really?
An Evening Drive in the Big City
While I was born in Chicago, I haven’t actually lived there since I was a year old. I grew up in nearby suburbs, and spent a few years in Milwaukee County as well; I actually try as hard as I can to avoid the city of Chicago itself. We have great theaters, restaurants, shopping and employment in the suburbs; why on earth would you go into the city if you don’t need to?
Even so… once in a while… an opportunity comes up that cannot be turned down. I recently attended a seminar downtown… in a skyscraper on East Randolph near Millennium Park, so I drove in that morning and battled that infamous Chicago morning rush hour.
I chose to avoid the highways on my way home, instead choosing a route that was educational, if a bit depressing: yes, I took Madison Street through the city. On purpose.
For those unfamiliar with the city, this is a once major street that cuts through some of the city’s dangerous neighborhoods (though not the worst), on its way from downtown to the western suburbs. It was a bit rainy, so I decided it would be safe enough, and I drove along.
You can probably imagine what I saw; I don’t need to describe it, do I? I saw blight. I saw boarded-up apartment buildings and storefronts; I saw government agencies, clinics and a congressman’s district office.
But I also drove through a couple of shopping districts that I hadn’t been aware of before; a strip of clothing and furniture stores, for example, came first, and then a few fast food restaurants with which I was unfamiliar, their walls and signs advertising delicious fried shrimp, and fresh perch, and fried chicken. It was the end of a day I had spent sitting in a stuffy conference room; I was hungry. I would have loved to stop and buy a sampler of shrimp and a sampler of perch for my ride home.
But again, those who know the city will know that I could not stop. Don’t get me wrong; this is not racism, or bigotry, or anything like that… it’s just that the crime is so serious in that particular area that a white guy in a suit, driving a car covered with bumper stickers advertising Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Rand Paul simply cannot pull into the parking lot and walk in to order some shrimp and perch.
Even in the rain.
Driving, I deemed safe. Stopping, not so much.
So I never got to try the seafood, and I just kept on driving until I reached Harlem Avenue in Oak Park, and turned toward the Eisenhower Expressway, which I figured might not be so busy now that rush hour was dissipating. And I had a chance to contemplate what I’d learned.
The Cost of Crime
We rightly fight crime, first and foremost, because of the immediate victims.
Government can’t protect everyone from every risk, but it must certainly manage a criminal justice system, chasing, arresting, prosecuting, convicting and incarcerating – perhaps executing too – the criminals who attack or rob innocent victims. This is one of the key purposes that we have governments for; if they don’t do this, they have no justification for existence. We must do whatever we can to protect the innocent from known, identified, convicted criminals.
But the direct damage that criminals do to their victims, while of critical importance, is still not the only damage that such crime does to society.
Yes, we want to reduce crime so that individuals don’t get robbed, raped, mugged, swindled, beaten or killed. We must look out for the direct victims, and the future victims, of these criminals.
But in addition, we must think of the indirect results of crime as well.
As I drove through this high-crime area, I saw boarded-up former business locations and empty lots. Why are they vacant today? Because most companies don’t dare be based there, even if the rent is dirt cheap… since it’s so dangerous, sensible people with options – both the potential sellers and their potential customers – stay out.
- When a city resident drives through my suburb, he can safely stop at any of the restaurants in my area and try the local cuisine; we have crime too, but very little by comparison.
- The reverse simply isn’t the case; when we suburbanites drive through his neighborhood, we don’t dare stop and give their restaurants business. This robs his neighborhood of commerce; which keeps the number of fast food places low, and also retards the creation of entry-level jobs for the kids of the neighborhood.
Where I live, a summer job at McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy’s is a common first job for a high schooler; it starts him on track for a career in something else. The lack of such businesses in the worst of Chicago’s neighborhoods means that a much smaller percentage of their kids – who need that first rung on the ladder so desperately, if they’re to ever escape poverty – are completely denied that opportunity.
Also, oddly, life in that neighborhood is more expensive than one would expect. A coin laundry there must charge more than one in my neighborhood, because theirs requires costly alarm systems, security guards, and other defenses. This cost has to be rolled into the charge for the washers and dryers.
The fast food place there, which should be cheaper because of the lower rent, is actually often more expensive, because they have less business for the economies of scale, and such greater security costs. They too must employ a guard, and a burglar alarm, and more. All because of the high crime in their neighborhood in the heart of the city, just mere miles from safe suburbs.
And consider also every other cost of living in that neighborhood:
- Owning a car is more expensive, because you have to pay for a secure garage… and your auto insurance will be higher because of the risk of theft or crashes, so greatly enhanced in an urban and dangerous neighborhood.
- Your rent will be more expensive than the quality of the place merits, because of the need for security fences, and/or security guards.
- Your homeowner’s insurance on a house, or similar insurance on an apartment, will also be higher than in the safe suburbs, again because the odds of an insurable event – a robbery, arson fire, etc. – are so much greater.
Then there’s the general cost of our revolving door criminal justice system itself. Since we never lock people up for long enough, and we never execute anyone anymore – no matter how many people they’ve robbed, raped, or killed – we’re constantly having to find, arrest, prosecute and convict the same people, again and again.
This takes a lot more police, and a much busier state’s attorney office, and more courts and judges and bailiffs and court stenographers. The cost of crime is immense, and must be borne by the citizens somehow. So we raise property taxes, and sales taxes, and income taxes. And we tax whatever else we can think of too: Haircuts by the clipping, perhaps? Theaters by the ticket? Beverages by the ounce?
Our businesses pay so much more than they can afford… and eventually, they almost inevitably realize it’s just not worth it anymore, and they flee to the suburbs, or even the collar counties, never to look back… making life that much harder, and more expensive, for those who remain, left behind in the big city.
Can It Be Helped?
Chicago – along with most of our major cities – has been so dangerous for so long that most of the powers that be have given up on it. Governments get used to a certain level of crime, and it becomes “the new normal.” But is this needle unmovable? Can this awful situation be helped?
Well, yes. Of course it can.
The Left doesn’t want to admit it, but everyone knows what works. Everyone knows what needs to be done. They’ve just been avoiding it for years, trying things like alternative policing (pleading with people to stop shooting each other instead of arresting them), and racial quotas (avoiding arresting minority bad guys until there are enough white bad guys arrested so the numbers for one minority group don’t look so bad). And they blame the weather (“of course” there’s more crime on a sunny summer day; it’s nice out!”)… and they blame poverty (“well, the system failed them, so of course they rob and rape and kill.”)
But we do know what we need to do.
We don’t catch every criminal every time, and we don’t win every prosecution; so we have to make sure the sentences are long, not short, to keep these criminals out of the economy for decades, not just months. But where is the Left on that issue? They insist on short sentences, to release the poor criminals back into the neighborhoods, to terrorize them again and again.
We know that many of the villains are illegal immigrants, people who either arrived as gang members or were talked into joining when they arrived. Well, shutting the door to illegals would certainly solve much of that problem. Where is the Left on this issue? They insist that we throw open the borders, and welcome in the drug dealers and other miscreants. Certainly there are good people too, among the ranks of the legal immigrants, but we know we can’t afford the influx. Cutting back the inflow of illegal aliens would greatly reduce the crime in our cities.
Just in the past few years, we’ve had an explosion of a problem that had previously been merely an irritant: the actual animosity of law-abiding victims against the police. It’s shocking to any sane outsider, to learn that the old ladies who get mugged by thugs, their granddaughters who get raped by thugs, their sons who struggle with jobs at convenience stores and get robbed by thugs… nevertheless are now siding with the thugs against the police. But that has been the case, ever since Ferguson and Baltimore, making it harder for Law Enforcement to do their job in the neighborhoods that need them most. And where is the Left on this issue? Amazingly, on the side of the thugs. The monstrous “Black Lives Matter” movement of pro-crime, anti-police, anti-victim agitation has been adopted, fed, and clothed by the Democratic Party.
Is there a solution? Of course. Tougher sentencing, including the sentencing that leaves an impact on the community, such as execution of the move violent offenders, would help a great deal.
But as long as the cities are in the clutches of the Left, and the Left refuses to allow the criminal justice system to do its job, our cities will remain in their death throes, plagued with a crime wave that’s fed by both an open door policy at the borders and a revolving door policy at the prisons.
And we suburbanites and other outsiders will have to continue to drive around the city, or to take the freeways when we can’t avoid going through it, avoiding routes too dangerous to dare, withholding forever our commerce from neighborhoods that have clearly demonstrated – at the ballot box and the public square - that they don’t want us there anyway.
Copyright 2017 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer, international transportation manager, writer, and actor. His columns are regularly found in Illinois Review.
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