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Editorial: Time for business to fight urban violence

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 21, 2013 6:28AM

When violent crime spikes in a community, whether small town or big city, the natural and politically popular response is to treat it as a law enforcement problem — make more arrests and lock up more people.

As a short-term strategy, that makes sense. Every law-abiding citizen hunkered down in a neighborhood that looks like a shooting gallery deserves a hard and fast police crackdown.

The less popular reality, however, is that the best long-range response to violent crime is to address the roots of the problem — not just the free flow of illegal guns, but also weak families, absent fathers, inferior schools and high unemployment.

It is to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s credit that he’s embracing this smarter approach in the wake of last month’s murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. Rather than defensively hunker down himself since Hadiya’s death made Chicago’s high homicide rate a national story, he’s treating the crisis like an opportunity, as he says he likes to do.

The first strong indication of this was when President Barack Obama came to town last week and Emanuel stood nearby as the president spoke about the complex problem of urban violence, putting an emphasis on personal and family responsibility. The president and the mayor are close, as everybody knows, and it’s unlikely the president would have put on such a show, something of an embarrassment for Chicago, had the mayor not agreed.

Now on Wednesday, as Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman reports exclusively, Emanuel will announce the kickoff of a massive fund-raising campaign, run by two big corporate chiefs, to raise $50 million over five years to attack the roots of violence. The effort recalls previous fund-raising drives to finance the city’s Olympic bid and the NATO Summit, but we’d say the cause this time is considerably more important.

The $50 million would be spent on programs that give young people a purpose and keep them out of trouble. It would fund jobs and recreation programs, mentoring and conflict-resolution efforts and early interventions for kids who go astray.

Such efforts are crucial. It is self-evident — nobody needs to see the pile of studies — that young men who are productive members of society are less likely to fall into a subculture of gangs, guns and drugs. They develop different ideas, better ones, about the responsibilities of manhood.

For Chicago’s business community, this is their moment. Time to step up. Time to show they believe as much in a black kid on the South Side as in Millennium Park or Steppenwolf Theatre.

It is all well and good to support pretty parks and the arts, a Chicago tradition dating back to Messrs. Field, Shedd and Adler. But Jane Addams and Hull House, working with the raggedy immigrants of the old West Side, could have used a lot more help.

“The city always comes together, whether it’s for the Olympics, NATO, a museum or some type of effort of civic pride,” Emanuel told Spielman.

Let’s see how true that is.

Let’s also be clear: Corporate giving is a form of charity.

It comes and goes, inevitably has strings attached and is no substitute for things that should not be handouts, like better schools and real jobs.

Urban violence is a puzzle, and an involved business community is just one piece of the solution.

Who will step up next?

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