What Can Save Chicago?
Religion & Liberty Online

What Can Save Chicago?

Chicago is in serious trouble. There has been a rash of crime over the past few weeks that has brought attention, yet again, to a city that cannot seem to make much progress. The Chicago Tribune reported the following about how out of control the city was this past Father’s Day:

At least 34 people were shot — nine of them fatally — Saturday afternoon through Father’s Day Sunday, stretching from 94th Street and Loomis Avenue on the South Side up to about North Avenue and North Pulaski Road on the Northwest Side, according to authorities. The youngest person killed during one of the bloodiest weekends in Chicago this year, 15-year-old Michael Westley, was fatally shot by a police officer Sunday night.

Shootings from Friday afternoon into Saturday left another 13 people shot, 1 fatally. The combined tally resulted in 47 people shot, and eight killed this weekend. Last year at about the same time, there were 53 people shot, nine fatally, in one weekend.

The rash of violent crime came as Chicago has seen a large dip in overall homicide and shooting numbers so far this year.

These murders come on the heels of Chicago reporting good news about the decrease over all in Chicago’s homicide rate:

After a violent 2012, the number of Chicago homicides in April has dropped to its lowest level in 50 years. There were 94 homicides in the first four months of 2013, according to Chicago police. In 2012, there were 42 homicides in April. This year, there were only 24, a 43 percent decrease. The reflects a similar reduction for the first four months of 2013 (94) compared with the same period in 2012 (161).

The reduction in homicides was hopeful. Last week’s violence, however, is a painful reminder that Chicago is an active volcano that could erupt at any moment. Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in America but gun laws mean nothing when you have social and cultural norms that have no respect for the rule of law nor the common good. In fact, to press the point further, the type of virtue commitments that orient people toward respecting the rule of law and promoting the common good are the very same values that make gun laws unnecessary. Chicago’s real crisis is a crisis of virtue and there’s nothing the city government in Chicago can do to make men and women more virtuous people.

According to the police, up to 80% of Chicago’s murders and shootings are gang-related — with a city-wide estimate of 70,000 gang members. These gangs tend to be made of men who come from homes where there is no father. When asking young men about the gang affiliations, one gang member says, “The common thread throughout all these conversations, throughout all of our communities, seems to be the absence of a father, a male-figure, a father figure in the home.” If fatherless is the common thread then something must be done to promote fatherhood in Chicago. Fatherlessness is a moral problem.

The great tragedy is that the cycle of fatherlessness will not likely be broken anytime soon because of incarceration and homicide given the most recent crime statistics for Illinois and Chicago. For example, nearly 60% of the prisoners locked up in the state of Illinois are black and 68.2% of prisoners are fathers. Additionally, 90% of Chicago’s murder victims are males, 88.4% of murder offenders are male, and 70.5% are black (24.3% Hispanic, 3.5% white). If inner-city fathers are either being murdered or are in jail, who, then, is left in local communities to raise children and show them what it means to live a life of virtue?

The crisis in Chicago is not a call for government solutions because governments cannot teach men how to love their children and seek the good of the city. This is a call for the city government in Chicago to do what is necessary to get out of the way and let mediating institutions, like the church, help save the city. Only they can solve the problem because the most powerful weapon against the current pathologies in Chicago are morally formed, virtuous men and women.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.