On July 9, the City Club of Chicago hosted an event on Chiraq, a controversial Spike Lee film on Chicago violence that will be
released in 2016. The panelists were Dr. Carl Bell, staff psychiatrist at Jackson Park Hospital’s Outpatient Family Practice Clinic and Inpatient Consultation Liaison Service; Will Burns, Alderman of Chicago’s 4th Ward; John Fountain, a journalism professor at Roosevelt University and Chicago Sun-Times reporter; and Rev. Dr. Michael Pfleger, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. They made prepared statements before answering audience questions.
“Chiraq” is a portmanteau of the words “Chicago” and “Iraq” and is used by some to suggest Chicago violence has reached third-world levels or suggest Chicago has become a tale of two cities, with its affluent and bustling downtown and suburbs juxtaposed with the violent and dilapidated South and West sides. The words may have been first used in these high-crime neighborhoods.
Since the start of 2015, 1171 people have been shot and 205 of those individuals have been killed, Pfleger said in his statement before arguing some politicians seemed more worried about how Chiraq would harm the city’s reputation than the murders and deteriorating communities themselves.
Pfleger praised Lee for addressing the taboo subject of black-on-black crime that forms a high percentage of Chicago crimes before issuing a final blistering criticism.
“CPS [Chicago Public Schools] is under a federal investigation and the state is in a shutdown, so what are we doing worrying about a movie title?” Pfleger demanded to loud applause.
Burns represented the other side of the coin, condemning Chiraq for seeking to exploit Chicago violence and tarnishing the efforts of South and West Side leaders attempting to better their neighborhoods. He suggested establishing a living wage and improving housing and education prospects in underserved areas to reduce their homicide rate.
Fountain disagreed, saying Chicagoans shouldn’t shy away from admitting the truth and working toward a solution.
“It [Chiraq] is a named birthed in cold hard facts,” Fountain said before alluding to the trend of Chicago becoming two cities so unequal that children’s zip codes have a large bearing on whether they will live to be 18.
While Burns pointed to the economic resurgence of some South Side communities and the hope existing in those areas, Pfleger maintains fundamental change is yet to come, saying the French Tourist Bureau tells tourists to avoid Chicago’s South and West Side.
Bell highlighted the popular misconception Chicago violence is gang-related and pointed out most violent crimes are committed by people knowing their victims. He argued Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is often mitigated even in children by strong support and system and views the disappearing social fabric of Chicago neighborhoods, absence of fathers, high rates of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and large number of liquor stores as causes of conflict.
Since fear permeates many of these areas and many households have only one parent, there are fewer ways of supporting and monitoring young people.
“Teenagers are like automobiles. All gas, no brakes or steering wheels,” Bell said, arguing adults function as their guides and prevent them from crashing.
A number of solutions to gun violence are brought up. Burns believes in the power of supervouchers and increased economic mobility. Bell says choline, an over-the-counter nutrient, can minimize brain damage from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in utero and after birth. Pfleger thinks targeting illegal gun producers and having each gun identified under the original buyer’s name can reduce violent crimes. For Fountain, addressing the root causes of black-on-black crime is crucial.
For Pfleger, saved lives have a visible impact.
“We’ve got to change communities where teddy bears and balloons
are becoming national symbols,” Pfleger concluded.