Chicagoans, it’s time to demand a better life

In the predominantly African-American communities on Chicago’s South and West sides, things have been bad for far too long, and they seem to be getting worse — for those communities and for the city as a whole. The fast-approaching March 20 primary election presents a chance for voters to demand better.

Across the city and the state, policies and trends that should make life better for everyone simply don’t. A focus on education has increased the city’s high school graduation rates, but the gains are not shared equally across all schools or all communities.

According to Chicago Public Schools data, African-American boys in particular lag, with more than 37 percent failing to graduate within five years, compared with 22 percent of the general population. And in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, some schools have been underfunded and underperforming, underenrolled, and now several are in line to be shuttered.
A nationwide booming job market isn’t booming for everyone. Unemployment in Illinois has been disproportionately high among African-Americans, and at 9.7 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the state has one of the nation’s highest jobless rates.

Police are supposed to serve and protect but instead are too often used to manage the outcomes of policies that have been detrimental to Chicago’s poorest communities. For instance, drug use among black people has typically been met with policing and prison sentences for decades, devastating families and increasing poverty by creating barriers to employment for those who have been incarcerated. Now with the opioid crisis pointing a national spotlight on overdose deaths among whites (who have always used drugs at a similar or higher rate than black people have), political leaders are calling for public health approaches. That could be great news for everybody, but there are no real plans to reverse the decades of wrongheaded drug policies that fueled mass incarceration.