Do We Face a London Here?

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary Like so many people, I have watched in horror as so many sections of London and other major cities were left burning and in ruins because of hordes of youths looting, pillaging and destroying tens of thousands of businesses, homes and offices. What is scary is that the story is all too familiar—many of these young people are poor and are from broken homes, gangs, and the homeless and dispossessed. These people, raised in seemingly hopeless and dismal circumstances, saw no problem committing mayhem and murder as easily as they would walk down the street corner. My heart goes out to those who lost their businesses and even family members.

In the end the British government had to use as much police force as was possible. Will it stop other such riots in the not-so-distant future? The British government is beginning to realize that one of the reasons for the riots is pockets of dismal poverty. We are seeing the same thing here in Chicago. Gang violence increasing. Police response just as harsh. I have heard opinions on what should be done. Some say there should be more force used. Others say there should be less force used. Still others say community patrols by local residents in cooperation with the police should deal with the gangs.

However, what should be asked is how to get kids away from the gangs and a life of crime in the first place? The key here is fighting poverty and with it all the ills that go with it—hopelessness, desperation, hate and violence, and giving young people or people in general a sense of community. If people feel they have nothing and nothing to lose then this is a prime recruiting tool for the gangs or for any criminal organization. There have to be alternatives. It does not matter if the alternatives are privately done or publicly funded or a combination or both—we need to provide alternatives to an environment of poverty, homelessness and degradation.

Police force in any given society can only go so far and can only keep the cork in the bottle from popping for so long. I have read that it is the Chicago police goal of wiping out certain gangs to achieve social safety and stability. One example is an all-out offensive against the Maniac Latin Disciples who shot and wounded two girls in Humboldt Park. As despicable an act as this was, I seriously doubt that the police will be able to wipe out such a gang that has already been entrenched since the 1960’s. And bear in mind that for every gang member arrested and killed there might be two to three to take that person’s place.

Again poverty and desperation, especially in very bad economic times like the Great Recession, can make converts where threats and intimidation from gangs cannot. In these bad times, we need things like Latino Youth Alternative High School and Latino Art Beat. We need to give young people jobs that can help them earn a living, and we have to give them chances for them to not only finish high school but go on to college. Racial and ethnic minorities are especially at-risk in this country, but then we are all at-risk in this country if we do not try to stop possible mass riots from happening. And with so many young people who are poor and down, and with such a limited number of police on hand, who is to say that another London could not happen here?

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