Op-Ed by C J Oakes
In the song, The Night Chicago died by Paper Lace, the story is told of a major clash between police and gangsters in the 1930s. The song is complete fiction including elements like “the east side” and the shootout with police, but it is also the perfect theme for the city.
2016/2017. Violence in Chicago…Did it Ever Die?
2016 was a banner year for violence in Chicago, if that be the correct term. 2017 is already shaping up to be more of the same. Yet Chicago has long been a violent city. Well before Al Capone and the gangs of today, the city had more than its share of violence and death.
Founded as a trading post, the city rose to national prominence as a center for processing cattle. Wranglers and rustlers from the west would drive their cattle to Chicago for sale and once they had money in their pockets and time on their hands, they naturally let off steam, much of which was violent.
Later, as immigrants flooded the city and the unchecked industrialists building factories abused workers, labor unions formed. Many of these met abuse with violence and Chicago was again awash in blood.
By the time Prohibition and Al Capone arrived on the scene, Chicago was already known to be a rough city in which to live. The Valentine’s Day Massacre, which is often held to be the inspiration for the song, The Night Chicago Died, focussed national attention on the Windy City. As a result, Federal agents under the newly formed FBI were sent in.
Another Night, Another Bloody Massacre in Chicago, Another Federal Takeover?
Last night, President Donald Trump announced to Chicago leadership that if they do not “fix the horrible carnage…I will send in the Feds!” Sending Federal Agents to assume control of a city is not unprecedented. After major scandals involving police rocked the city of Los Angeles early in 2000, the Federal Government assumed control of law enforcement there. Again in 2010 the Federal Government nearly stepped in to assume control of the entire state amid serious prison overcrowding and concerns the situation could become unmanageable.
So a Federal takeover of a cities law enforcement is not without precedent. Nor, unfortunately, is bloody massacres in Chicago. This is a city which has died a thousand times over and will die then times that in the future. Why?
In response to the President’s Tweet, Chicago leadership responded by saying they welcome Federal intervention, but qualified it by asking for more gun control. But really, guns are not the problem…guns are a symptom.
Power and People in Chicago
Aside from NYC, perhaps no other city in America has been quite the melting pot as Chicago. But there is a key difference between the two. New York City largely celebrates its diversity on an official level whereas Chicago has long fought theirs.
As with NYC, Chicago has serious racial and ethnic divisions. As National Geographic noted regarding a race map they created, “highly segregated cities like Chicago can reveal stark, street-by-street racial divides.” And like NYC, from time to time those major racial and ethnic divisions clash. Yet, the clashes seem more intense in Chicago. Why?
Chicago has a different culture. NYC was founded early on immigration and the promise of freedom and a new life in the New World. This history has shaped the collective values of the city of New York. Chicago was founded on financial opportunity and early on controlled by many who believed that the way to power was by force. Chicago has a very different set of collective values which date to its founding.
Little wonder then that one of the darkest periods in Chicago history came when power and race clashed at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. As 10,000 protesters gathered in Grant Park, one took down the U.S. Flag. Police pushed through the crowd and began to beat the young man at which point the protesters responded with rocks and anything else they could throw at them.
The Night Chicago Died…Play…Repeat
To really get the sense of the senselessness of Chicago violence, listen to the song, The Night Chicago Died below. At the end of the song, the chorus is repeated to a backdrop of “Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na…”
Summed up, that is Chicago. Good Luck Mr. President.