National Spotlight on Chicago’s Rainbow Coalition

Notes from the 2/5/2020 issue

City designates $11.5 million to address street violence—but is it even enough?

Mayor Lightfoot’s administration is currently accepting proposals, due February 20, for an umbrella organization to coordinate the implementation of neighborhood-specific violence reduction programs in partnership with dozens of community groups. There are similar, privately-funded models already in place, like READI, CRED, Communities Partnering 4 Peace, and Metropolitan Family Services. Outreach workers for some of those organizations say the city actually needs to invest $50 million a year, like Los Angeles, New York, and other comparable cities, to make a dent in the steady trend of street violence in Chicago. “Nine million dollars to work with all the individuals who are at the highest risk of violence is really nothing,” said Eddie Bocanegra of READI, who chaired a transition committee on public safety for Lightfoot. “I don’t think it’s going to help much in sustaining the programs that the private philanthropic community has already invested in.” Local and state taxpayers spent about $3 billion coping with Chicago’s gun violence in 2018, according to an analysis by the Boston Consulting Group for CRED.

Big plans for Woodlawn

The University of Chicago recently purchased Woodlawn’s Jewel-Osco for almost $20 million after finding out it was for sale in order to “ensure that it remains locally controlled,” they said. The supermarket, which just opened last March to much fanfare, is the neighborhood’s first full-service grocery store in decades, and nothing much should change about that, at least for now. The broker, Greenstone Partners, touted its “captive audience of shoppers from the University of Chicago’s main Hyde Park campus” in its promotional materials—no mention of the 23,000 or so native residents of Woodlawn, but okay.

Also last week, the city released the Woodlawn Development Plan, which consolidated a series of past studies on the neighborhood’s assets and potential for development. The city owns twenty-seven percent of the vacant land in Woodlawn, and the plan recommends that it sells the majority to developers, who would build mixed-income housing. The city is expecting for the Obama Center and “continued investment” by the UofC to create about 2,000 permanent jobs and attract commercial development to major corridors like King Drive, Cottage Grove, Stony Island, and 63rd Street. However, plans to mitigate displacement and gentrification around the Obama Center remain elusive; 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor lambasted City Hall for its watered-down version of the Community Benefits Agreement ordinance she and 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston put forward for the area.

A national spotlight on Chicago’s 1969 Rainbow Coalition

All eyes are on Chicago right now, as PBS’s new documentaryThe First Rainbow Coalition—not to be mistaken for the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH—debuts in screens across the country (you can also stream it on the PBS website). The film demonstrates how our city was once the epicenter of a radicalized multi-racial movement that was ahead of its time. Led by slain Black Panther Fred Hampton, community and street-based groups worked in unison to protest displacement in Lincoln Park spurred in part by an expanding DePaul University campus, confront police brutality, oppose the Vietnam War, and strive for neighborhood self-determination in spite of, not because of, the city’s plans for them. The parallels between that struggle and today’s most pressing issues in Black and Brown neighborhoods are striking. Does Chicago have a semblance of a rainbow coalition today? And if not, what would it take?

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