My last post about Arianna Huffington's new book, Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream talked about the Great Recession, the Great Bailout, and the Great Cover-Up of financial crimes.
Among the future consequences of not fixing our national problems will likely be an increase in social unrest and an increase in crime. A look at Chicago's problems may serve as a call to action for America's middle class. Chicago's city budget is in dire straits. That's also true of the state of Illinois, California, New York and other areas. In Chicago, the same mismanagement that deepened our fiscal crisis has caused a crisis in essential city services.
The police department provides just one example. Sunday's Chicago Tribune reported that in 31 days, there were 303 shot and 33 dead:
"Crime has been holding steady in Chicago in recent years. Through July, there have been 1,089 shootings in the city, a 2.4 percent decrease over last year."
According to the newspaper, it's a "typical" July. Yet there is nothing typical about it when you look beyond the numbers. The first problem is that the numbers are flat-out unacceptable in any year in any city in the U.S. It is inexplicable that citizens of Chicago have tolerated this situation in poorer neighborhoods for decades. The second problem is a new problem. Years of complacency by Chicago's middle and upper classes have brought the crisis to their doorstep.
In recent years, incompetent and ill-qualified people have been promoted to "leadership" positions. Hiring and exam giving has declined, and the police department is undermanned and demoralized. Even worse is the fragging officers take from politicians, unqualified people in police "administration," and from the local media.
Spiraling Out of Control: Open Season on Cops
The title of this post comes from "A City at War With Itself," a commentary written by Lt. John Andrews, a 25-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department:
Most horrific for Chicago is that in less than 60 days, Chicago has lost 3 of its police officers, killed by gunfire as victims of robberies. It seems no one is safe in our city anymore.
Chicago's homicide rate this year currently stands toe-to-toe with the total number of military forces killed in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Thugs, gangs and renegade groups run the streets and neighborhoods, intimidating and victimizing the decent citizens of this city. They go mostly unchallenged and unchecked by a totally demoralized police force that is dangerously understaffed and still out-gunned on the
Lt. Andrews describes in detail a police department demoralized by scandals and corruption. He names those who received promotions based on political pull rather than merit or suitability for responsibility. Moreover, police fear reprisals from political special interest groups when using necessary force:
When asked, most will freely tell you that they do not want to place themselves, their families and livelihoods at risk from a perceived Machiavellian police superintendent or other incompetent "bosses" that could lead them into legal trouble that would risk their liberty and freedom (jail).
Update: Lt. Andrews now faces backlash for bringing these matters to light. See "In Third World America Expect to Be Investigated, as Lt. John Andrews Is Being Investigated, for Speaking Up," Huffington Post, August 28, 2010.
Even during televised speeches at the recent funerals of police officers, public officials speak out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they decry the apparent targeted shootings of police officers -- one of whom, Michael Bailey, was wearing his uniform after just coming off duty from a night of guarding the mayor's house -- and on the other hand, they say that of course, police must follow proper procedures and work within the law (and often pause for effect).
Of course, everyone agrees the police must follow proper procedures, but the subtext of the message delivered at an officer's funeral is repellant. These thinly-disguised campaign speeches suggest the police force needs to be careful not to bring these tragedies upon themselves. Perhaps they think police should round up suspects and put them in Monty Python's comfy chair.
If the goal is to help police officers follow proper procedures at all times, then politicians and the police superintendent have to staff the force with well-qualified recruits (this means creating a reasonable qualification exam), remove corrupt "leaders" by reversing ridiculous promotions, and promote qualified officers based on merit. The police force desperately needs manpower and both physical and leadership back-up. Officers confident that their authority is respected, their judgment is trusted, and their tools are equal to a dangerous and difficult job will produce better results than people who have been left hanging out to dry, while their colleagues are massacred.
Local media has lost the plot. A couple of days ago, an off-duty police officer shot and killed an armed home invader who had kicked in his door. The officer reportedly lives on a block with five or six other police officers. The intruder allegedly has a history of wrongdoing and invaded a suburban home with another man. He posed as a cable worker and bound and gagged his victims. Yet, some news reports described the intruder as a "victim" and said the off-duty officer was not charged, as if charges should have even been an issue. According to comments posted at Second City Cop, WGN's televised news unwisely showed the police officer's home, identified his neighborhood, and zoomed in on his home address.
Formerly "safe" and "upscale" neighborhoods have become the targets of "wildings." James Carlini, a Contributing Commentator to WTN News, gave an eyewitness account of his experience of Chicago's "land sharks" at the premier shopping district known as the Magnificent Mile, or Mag Mile:
Coming back to the John Hancock to pick up my car at around 9PM, I noticed several little bands of four to five juveniles walking around sizing up people as they walked down the streets. Luckily we were already in our car, but I could sense that these "gangsta wannabes" were up to no good.
There were some arrests made that night but very suspicious that there was no mention in the mainstream media. There have been incidences like this before but never a mention or a caution. Why? Afraid to report on the truth or were you told not to report on the truth?
One of Carlini's readers noted that Mayor Richard Daley seems to live in a bubble:
I think [Mayor Daley] should go out in the evening without his hit squad protecting him with the firearms he professes to hate so much. That would be six more highly-paid police officers who could patrol the downtown streets that you and I walk down -- unarmed.
Buy Back America
If nothing else good comes out of our crisis, perhaps it will serve as a wake-up call for the entire nation. It's time to put our shoulders to the wheel to solve our problems.
Doing nothing is not an option for America. Much of poor America, especially in our major cities, has been Third World America for decades. Soon the urban middle classes and even upper classes will become better acquainted with that world.
Washington's political corruption and mismanagement has the same roots as Chicago's. As Arianna points out, on a national level, we need "the mother of all reforms:"
"That is why the first step toward stopping our relentless transformation into Third World America has to be breaking the choke hold that special interest money has on our politicians." (Third World America, 172)
On a local level, Chicago will have to fix its own problems by breaking the choke hold of special interest groups. On a national level, it will take a Constitutional amendment requiring full public financing for political campaigns (for starters). Our politicians have shown us how willing they are to be owned by special interest groups that will buy votes, buy a campaign, or just buy them off. As Arianna explains: "If someone's going to own the politicians, it might as well be the American people."
Third World America will be published September 7 and is available here.
Additional Information Added on August 27, 2010 in response to comments:
I chose James Carlini's report, because I thought it might interest city officials to know that tourists are feeling intimidated; it's bad for business. It turns out he lives in Illinois (not Wisconsin) and grew up in Chicago. Contrary to some commenters' assumptions, he is not intimidated by Chicago. I could have chosen from several unprecedented incidents (some occurred on Mag Mile) among my neighbors and friends, but Mr. Carlini is a writer and there was a link to his internet article. Likewise, I didn't have a link to the story about multiple shots fired into WGN's window on Mag Mile, since it was underreported, but the eyesore of a board that replaced it made the Tribune Tower less attractive for tourists and shoppers. (The board was up for several weeks, and the window has since been replaced.)
Incidents on Mag Mile are underreported by the media, unless an incident happens to a reporter. On July 14, Chicago Tribune reporter John Thomas was mugged "on the (not so) Mag Mile." Here's an excerpt of his account:
I was mugged Monday on the Mag Mile. Right in front of the glitzy Coach store. In broad daylight. Surrounded by literally hundreds of people.
Here's what went down: I walked up to the bus stop at the corner of Michigan and Grand to take the 151 to my home in Lakeview. I sat down on the black metal railing that fences off one of the large flower gardens, put down my bag of groceries and pulled out my new iPhone to check my e-mail and send a text message to my wife letting her know I would be home soon.
The sidewalk was packed with tourists and shoppers, but I felt a strange energy when a kid, probably about 14, sat down close to me on my left while the guy he walked up with stood on my right. It just felt wrong.
Then, literally in a flash, the kid on my left grabbed my iPhone and tried to bolt. I had heard all of the warnings about people snatching iPhones and iPods, but because the street was so crowded I never thought it could happen there and then.
But when it did, I instinctively grabbed for the thief and somehow got a firm hold of his shirt. I used the shirt as leverage, flung him into the flower bed and then toppled down on top of him. We struggled, rolling around in the moist dirt, crushing all the newly planted flowers, and I thought I had him subdued.
Click here to read the rest.
I never mentioned race in my post, but a few commenters brought up race and made unwarranted assumptions. Some commenters assumed "wildings" only involve black youths. Chicago is a city with a lot of diversity and gangs of every race. I mentioned a separate incident of an armed intruder being shot and killed by an off duty police officer; the armed intruder was not African American. I also mentioned three police officers were shot and killed within the past 60 days. Two were African American, one was not.