Past Event

Violence and the city: creating street peace

Alex Kotlowitz, noted author of There Are No Children Here and Never a City So Real and James Thindwa, Executive Director of Chicago Jobs with Justice will be at this event for a special discussion that will be recorded by CANAL + TV.

Fifteen year old Alex Arellano became the 34th Chicago Public School student killed this year on May 2nd. Arellano‘s death made the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times and another young Chicagoan ended his life as a headline. His story, and the story of others like him, has left many to think about the systematic elements of urban violence and the complexities behind issues of prevention.

Mayor Daley, who recently participated in a rally against violence, blames how easy it is to legally buy and sell assault weapons in the U.S., saying "Maybe America’s lost its conscience in Washington." Other people blame the lack of responsible parental supervision. An anonymous commenter on the Chicago edition of the Huffington Post blog recently responded to Arrellano’s death by saying: "I believe that parenting is to blame. In my neighborhood, all I see are grandmothers taking care of the families and enabling bad behavior of their own kids and grandkids. The parents aren’t there to parent!" 

Recently, law enforcement and school officials at Chicago’s Sullivan High-School began meeting to discuss ways to decrease violence at the school. One solution they came up with is requiring suspended students to sign an agreement saying that if they come within 1000 feet of the campus, they can be arrested for trespassing. Some students are applauding this effort. Junior Maria Rangel, 17, says "They [suspended students] will be a couple blocks away they could meet up with their people over there, not over here," where they can disrupt students."

But do these responses address the multifaceted and systematic issues at play? James Thindwa, Executive Director of Chicago Jobs with Justice and a writer for In These Times wrote: "What we are seeing in America’s urban centers is desperation being played out in violent activity. And if there is going to be long-term, sustainable solutions, Americans must demand a more honest and comprehensive analysis of gun violence – and crime in general."

Many believe HBO’s popular drama The Wire presented viewers with just that: a storyline about violence, drugs, and poverty that developed using comprehensive storytelling about the city.  Deemed Shakespearean in all its tragic glory, the series was applauded for revealing a tapestry of woven corruptions and ethical missteps that exist within political and social systems. Series producer David Simon said: "There is a guard now on assessing anything qualitatively. Of pulling back the veil behind what an official will tell you is progress, or is valid, or is legitimate as policy."

In an effort to look at the issue more comprehensively and respond in a way that promotes positive youth development, the Florida legislature recently voted to change what they considered extremely punitive and zero tolerance for students. The new law encourages schools to use alternatives to expulsion and referral to law enforcement such as restorative justice and other positive youth development tactics. Many in Florida are cheering this new law which they believe ensures that many schoolchildren are not needlessly criminalized.

Are we hindered by our inability to comprehensively examine the causes of street violence? And if so, what are the solutions? Is Florida paving the way to move beyond punitive laws as solutions to violence? Do you think stricter law enforcement is the answer? How does the discussion around street violence shape our solutions? What can each of us do to eradicate the problems of violence in our communities? Aside from schools and social service agencies, what other kinds of programs are needed for positive youth development and street peace?

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