As we get ready for summer here in Chicago, one thing on the minds of many residents is what will we do to stem the violence we are seeing across the city. In a survey commissioned during November and December of 2021 by Chicago Index, a collaboration between The Daily Line and Crain’s Chicago, less than one-third of city residents surveyed felt safe in their communities, with 46 percent deeming Chicago “very unsafe”. Exactly 703 Chicagoans were surveyed.. While some crime numbers are down, according to CPD sources such as fewer  shootings this May than last, we have seen an increase in the number of crimes committed by juveniles. Ranging from the attack on Lincoln Park resident Dakota Earley, to the debacle in Grant Park that subsequently helped identify his offender.

 Our  young people are in crisis; and we must have all hands-on deck to ensure a safe summer for them and the residents of our city. In light of that, Mayor Lori Lightfoot held a Summer Action Summit at Malcolm X College. The room was filled with people who do the work on behalf of our young people. Agencies who represented various communities participated and they included :. Lost Boys of South Shore, Lawndale Christian Legal Center of North Lawndale, and New Life Centers of Little Village were amongst those in attendance. The discussions centered around what was the best way to actively engage young people, specifically; what works and what doesn’t. All the youth panelists agreed that employment and pay were the top priorities. Which confirmed what we have always believed to be true, employment and job opportunities have a direct correlation with crime deterrence and public safety.

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was the first to take on juvenile crime in this manner with his well-intended, but much maligned Neighborhood Recovery Initiative that launched in 2012. He employed youth in underserved communities in an effort to keep them off the streets. The thought process was that mentorship and job-training could help stem the tide of violence. Gov. J.B. Pritzker took it further, investing $200 million in violence prevention initiatives, with a heavy focus on job training and mental health. This follows the data.

In 2019, the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) released a study in which they found that of 17,382 individuals surveyed, 45percent of the young Black men aged 20-24 were out of school and not working. The study was commissioned by the Alternative School Network and used census data. Alternative School Network is an advocacy group for schools that re-enroll dropouts. Now, amid the “great resignation” and worker shortages in multiple fields we are seeing this current wave of crime buck this trend. Crimes we are witnessing now are being committed by juveniles, who should easily be able to find employment in the fast food market or their local grocer. Which points to another underlying issue.  

The youth panelist who participated in the safe summer event all agreed that working and earning wages was the most important thing for them during the summer months. While good, what this tells me is that we are interacting with the wrong youth. Young people who are already engaged and active are not who we should be reaching for. We must make a concerted effort to reach those who are most likely to reoffend. The young men and women who are disengaged and disenchanted.  They are tired of tepid efforts to help or understand them. Making an impact on the lives of those individuals will pay immediate dividends for our communities.

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