The root cause of Chicago's glut of murders

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"I believe there’s only so much the police can do about this," Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown observes today, about the rise in murders in Chicago this year. "What we’re seeing is the result of an economic and social breakdown in poor neighborhoods, not inadequate policing."

Brown's right—although calling it a "breakdown" makes it sound like something new. For more than 40 years now, the city's murder rate has waxed and waned under various mayors and police superintendents, but it's always been exponentially higher in Chicago's poor neighborhoods.

This isn't, mainly, because poor neighborhoods lack sufficient police protection. It's because concentrated urban poverty nurtures violence. It always has and always will.

"There is no way Chicago is going to significantly reduce the violence without investing resources in the communities where the violence is occurring," Mary Mitchell also writes in the Sun-Times today."Besides police presence, these residents need access to counseling, recreational facilities and jobs."

Yes, more resources are needed in poor neighborhoods. But that alone won't change things much. Violent crime in Englewood and West Garfield Park will continue to run rampant as long as poverty's clustered there. Concentrated poverty produces a lot more violence than poverty that's intermittent in a region. Concentrated poverty is also self-sustaining.

It's that clustering of poverty—a product of the city's racial and economic segregation—that needs to be addressed if we genuinely want fewer murders here.

But the unwillingness to confront our most fundamental problem is also nothing new. The problem can't be solved by Chicago alone; desegregation has to happen throughout the metropolitan area. The suburbs benefit from a vibrant central city, so attacking this problem is in their interest. There are strategies being tried in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region and others.

The mayor of Chicago has the clout to lead such an effort here. Mayor Emanuel, like the mayors before him, has been unwilling to do so. That's in part because segregation is such a tenacious challenge. The segregation of blacks in Chicago began a hundred years ago. A problem that long-standing wouldn't be solved quickly even if the mayor and others made it a priority. It's not the kind of thing where a mayor can quickly "put points on the board," as Emanuel likes to say and do.

But it's not impossible to solve, either; it just takes the determination. Emanuel's not going to find that determination on his own, nor will the mayor after him. Our mayors will start focusing on desegregation when we start asking them to. Until that happens, we'll continue to go from one quick-fix police-deployment strategy to the next, year after year, decade after decade, with the same predictable results.

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