Is Chicago still the second city

"Are you afraid to come here?" : Why Chicago has a serious problem

The path ends abruptly. Actually, North Michigan Avenue crosses the Chicago River at this point. But the bridge has been up since 8 p.m. Like almost all bridges that provide access to downtown Chicago, every evening lately. It's the new normal in the third largest city in the United States. The city center has closed, for fear of another night of violence, as the metropolis experienced a week ago.

The inferno that once again brought negative headlines to Chicago around the world began around midnight. Video recordings show how hundreds of men and women run out of clothes, jewelry and other shops on the “Magnificent Mile”, the posh shopping street of the metropolis, carrying away filled bags, iPhones and televisions, which they carry into waiting cars and even throw big vans.

In the social networks there are pictures of countless broken windows, mannequins, cosmetics and shoe boxes scattered on the street, of blazing fires - and a massive police presence that struggled for hours to get the chaos under control. 13 police officers are injured, a private security service employee is shot, more than 100 people are arrested during the night and the city center is cordoned off.

Barred facades, raised bridges

For Chicago, the night of Monday a week ago is the second heavy night of rioting with looting in the city center since May, when violent unrest broke out in many American cities after the death of the African-American George Floyd, whose neck was stifled by a police officer . Since then, the bridges have been pulled up every evening like in a medieval fortress, and many shops have their facades barricaded.

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The trigger for the latest looting is believed to have been the fact that white police officers shot the 20-year-old armed African American Latrell Allen five times near his home in the problem area of ​​Englewood in the southwest of the city. In the social networks he is initially misleadingly described as a 15-year-old boy. As a result, according to the police, an angry wave of violence builds up in Englewood, the offshoots of which, pushed by appeals on the Internet, pull into the affluent city center, hit Chicago right in the heart.

On Friday, however, the Chicago Tribune reported that of the 43 suspects brought before the judge in the following days - a mixture of students, unemployed parents and convicted criminals - none appear to have any direct connection to Englewood. Yes, so far not a single one has even mentioned the incident during the interrogations. The police also did not publish the allegedly posted calls for violence and looting. In addition, the police officers who shot Latrell Allen - according to their account because he resisted arrest and should have shot the officers twice - did not have a body cam with them.

Only one in five African Americans trust the security authorities

What exactly happened that Sunday afternoon? What is clear is that doubts about the version of the police are growing, especially with the "Black Lives Matter" movement. These doubts fall on dangerous ground here, with the African American community's confidence in the police falling to an all-time low after the death of George Floyd. According to a recent study by the Gallup Institute, just one in five African Americans trust the security authorities.

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It is also clear that the city cannot stand idly by nights of chaos like the one a week ago. Neither has the gun violence in the southwest of the city, which has been increasing for months and which has repeatedly killed bystanders, including women and small children, over the past few weeks. The reports of destroyed Gucci and Burberry stores, the reports of babies being killed by ricochets, make it into the national news, unlike the everyday violence in the “problem areas”. You reach the capital Washington, where US President Donald Trump never misses an opportunity to criticize the city that has been democratically governed for years.

Unemployment, gangs

Pressure is growing on Chicago's first black mayor, Lori Lightfoot. The former public prosecutor was elected 15 months ago with the promise to do more for the areas that have been neglected for decades and to combat police abuse. In Chicago, many acknowledge that Lightfoot is currently dealing with a storm: a global pandemic, in the wake of which the economy collapses, hits a city where unemployment and gangs have been a problem for decades.

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The consensus is that the city has a serious problem. Steve Chapman, a member of the Chicago Tribune's chief editor, quoted a statistic: “In the first seven months of the year, the number of murders rose 51 percent and there were 47 percent more shootings.” July was the bloodiest month over the past 28 years.

But Chapman warns against simple answers - and premature pointing of blame. “The mayor is in an extremely difficult situation. We have never experienced a crisis like this, ”says the journalist, who has hardly left his house in a suburb since the beginning of the pandemic.

The pandemic hits the disadvantaged all the harder

Anna Valencia, the head of the public order office, herself a Latina, works closely with the mayor. Why is the violence escalating? She sees systematic racism in Chicago, and large parts of the city have been neglected. “When I was elected to office three and a half years ago, my goal was to act as a bridge between the communities and our government. The distrust that Afro-Americans and Hispanics harbored towards the government was gigantic. “This problem cannot be solved overnight - not even in 15 months. Now the pandemic, which hits exactly these people particularly hard. Plus a government in Washington that refuses to tighten gun laws.

In the long line of a food counter in the Auburn Gresham district, Oliver Jones is standing and looking over the fence, behind which there are folding tables with groceries and other donations. The big 58-year-old lost his job as a construction worker in the pandemic and has to look after eight children with his wife. His wife has been working a bit for two weeks now, as a saleswoman in the city center. But: "The money just isn't enough."

He is annoyed by the excesses. “That only leads to them closing all the shops here.” The victims of violence and looting are once again the people in the disadvantaged parts of Chicago - and these are mainly African-Americans. Because the traffic to the city center was partially interrupted after the riots, his wife now needs two hours instead of 45 minutes by bus, he says.

"As a black mother here with us, you sit at home and wait for someone to call and tell you that your child has been murdered"

Tamar Manasseh, the food distribution organizer, hurries back and forth between the tables. With a cell phone in hand, another in the pocket of her short jeans shorts, she asks one of her white volunteers after the other: “Are you afraid to come here?” She repeats their answers for her followers on social media: “ You see, no one is afraid to be here. Someone should go back and tell those who are shooting around: We are not afraid, ”she speaks into her cell phone.

The 42-year-old, with the words “Block Hugger” on her black T-shirt in white - something like: someone who hugs his or her neighborhood - rarely pauses. After all, this is the food counter on 75th Street on the corner of Stewart, just one of her many projects with which the mother of two wants to do something against the violence in her part of town.

Manasseh founded “Mothers / Men Against Senseless Killings”, or MASK for short, six years ago after a mother was shot on the other side of the intersection. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I didn't know her personally, but I knew her story and that could have been mine.” It was out of this fear that she acted. She sat at the intersection.

Sitting on the street at 75th Street and Stewart is what some in Chicago consider life-threatening: The area in Auburn Grasham, like the better-known, neighboring district of Englewood, is Chicago's most dangerous area. A large part of the houses is empty and in ruins. Manasseh wanted to show presence, to take a bit of control over their "block". Soon other mothers came - and brought their children with them. Sometimes there was a barbecue. MASK is now an organization that many in the USA are familiar with.

Those who no longer learn quickly get to know the wrong people

"As a black mother here with us, you sit at home and wait for someone to call and tell you that your child was murdered," says Tamar Manasseh. “Nobody wants to get that call. So I'm here on the street to prevent that from happening. And my children are close to me. "

Atika Harris also looks after the children in this corner of town. The African American founded her daycare center “Kiddie Steps 4 You Learning Center” on 63rd Street four years ago, less than 500 meters from the police station, where tensions boiled up on Sunday evening. Since the public schools in Chicago do not reopen after the summer vacation due to Corona, it is now also offering care for school children. "There is no other support here."

Even a mother of eight children, she knows how great the stress can be when the offspring cannot go outside. “It's dangerous on the streets here. But children shouldn't be alone at home either. They need supervision. ”The 34-year-old wants to prevent students from getting the education they need to make something of their lives because of the pandemic. "When students stop studying, they hang out on the street and meet the wrong people."

He used to deal with drugs

Atika Harris ‘Rooms are lovingly and colorfully furnished, large windows let in lots of light. Since it will soon be too tight - the need is great - she wants to rent another building. Funding programs help with the financing.

Less than two kilometers away, people from the organization “I grow Chicago” can learn how to grow watermelons, herbs or tomatoes and what functions earthworms have. Volunteers offer yoga classes in the “Peace House”.

The 53-year-old Dennis Tabb plays basketball with boys, helps them find a job or find a place to study - if they are determined to go along. “Englewood is one of the most dangerous areas in Chicago. I myself was on the street for years, dealing drugs, "says the man with the diamond earrings and the blue" Phillies "basketball cap," until someone gave me a chance. "He then studied social work and violence prevention. Today he helps others. He proudly shows the third abandoned house that the organization wants to renovate and prepare in such a way that people like to stay here.

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Volunteers try to fill a gap. Dennis expects absolutely nothing from politics, whether in Chicago or Washington. Not even from the first black mayor, because she is “part of the system” that has always discriminated against African Americans.

The impression: The media only report when the affluent neighborhoods are affected

The Chicago organization Metropolitan Family Services with more than 1000 employees looks after almost 100,000 people in poor parts of the city. Its President Ricardo Estrada has also observed a dangerous worsening of the social situation. At the same time, however, it bothers him that the great media attention only sets in when the affluent part of Chicago is affected. “Many people in the southwest are housed in a very small space with others, which alone creates enormous stress. Around one in four was unemployed here anyway, and now many more have lost their jobs with no prospect of finding work again quickly. "

What frustrates organizations like Metropolitan Family Services is that Chicago was actually on the right track. “We have seen that our work is effective” - wherever they try to offer people an alternative. In the past three years, the violence has decreased, says Estrada. "Covid-19 has ruined many of these successes, and the frustration over this additional crisis is currently discharging."

For him, who grew up in the southwest of the city, the recent riots are nothing more than a cry for attention.

Chicago is getting more than enough attention these days. On Sunday night, another demonstration in the city center turned violent. The result of the night: dozens of injured police officers and demonstrators.

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