Updated: June 23, 2014 1:46PM
Driving along the new extension of South Lake Shore Drive, I finally figured out what bothers me about Chicago’s “Put the Guns Down” campaign.
Certainly it isn’t that I disagree with that sentiment. All we hear about are relentless shootings in the city. It doesn’t matter what time — the quiet of morning, the busy crunch of rush hour, after sundown — gunshots are ringing out.
Sure, there’s value in the city asking radio stations to help spread its anti-violence message. We started using our seatbelts more after the “Buckle Up” campaign. There’s an entire generation that took the message “Don’t Drink and Drive” to heart and knows to hop on the L or get in a cab after a night of partying.
So it would be nice to think that someone listening to El Patron, Power 92, ’GCI or any of the other participating radio stations would hear the slogan “Put the Guns Down” and decide not to hang out a car window and pop someone.
But here’s what struck me as I traveled down that new stretch of LSD and heard somebody say “Put the Guns Down” on V103: One has a lot to do with the other. The beautiful views I was enjoying are there because the steel mill isn’t there anymore. We’re talking about a couple miles of jobs gone and never replaced. And if you turn off the main road, you see the shuttered small businesses that went out after the big employer left.
And that’s what you see across so many of the neighborhoods plagued by constant gunfire: places where jobs used to be. Those are the holes in this big puzzle of violence in Chicago that need to be filled.
Yes, easy access to guns is part of the equation. So is lousy parenting. And the no-snitch code is so wrong.
But the lack of jobs in those communities is a huge part of the equation, and no one in power talks about that.
I’d bet that not every person who worked in the mills, factories and businesses that once filled in the landscape of these neighborhoods was a saint. But if you’re working 40 hours a week, you don’t have all that free time to get into trouble. Once you’ve got a job with a decent paycheck that lets you purchase a home, car and stuff you wanted, well, you are not going to jeopardize all that to run with your boys. Frankly, some of those jobs were so strenuous that even if you had a touch of bad in your soul, the work left you too tired to go out and mess up.
We’ve all seen the mayor pat himself on the back when he brings an employer into Chicago. But those jobs are mostly going downtown. Those companies aren’t bringing their jobs to the neighborhoods that need them most. Jobs downtown are good, but what we really need is employment in our vulnerable communities.
“We do policing. We do prevention. We do penalties. We also need parenting. We’re going to add a fifth ‘P’ today — pop culture,” Emanuel told the crowd gathered when the “Put the Guns Down” campaign was unveiled, according to media reports.
Until we move on down the alphabet to the letter J and add jobs to the mix, we’re not going to see the change needed to stop the killing.