The State Urban-Rural Disconnect

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryA week ago, while visiting a friend, I met a sheriff in a small rural town not far from the Illinois-Iowa border. His name was John, and officer John talked to me about the two major problems in his town. No, it was not gun or gang violence. He knew all of the kids in town, and the ones who might cause trouble. No, it was not crime as everybody pretty much knew each other and any strangers who might come to town they would know. No, it was not prison over-crowding as relatively few crimes even in this day of age is committed in his town or any of the neighboring towns (at worst, there might be one court case brought up once a month or month in two months. However, that was more often than not over a neighbor dispute or domestic violence). In the case of domestic violence, officer John might talk to the people involved and help arrange counseling for them. Since they know officer John he is able to handle the situation.

It sounds almost like there are no problems. Well, yes there are some very serious problems. The first big one is decaying infrastructure and lack of jobs. Because the county where officer John works seems to be more often than not ignored by the state. Sidewalks are falling apart, some of the downtown lights do not work, many buildings in the downtown area are decaying due to lack of funding to repair them, and the town has no food store or gas station. Residents have to go to the next nearest town to get gas or food. There are virtually no jobs to speak of in the town, or even in the county for that matter. Needless to say job opportunities are hard to come by, and many people are on welfare or food stamps. Because job opportunities are an issue, many of the town’s residents have to go further away to find work.

This leads to the next big problem; mental health. Due to lack of jobs, a weak and failing economy, and many people having little to no money to survive, many people suffer from anxiety, depression and anger issues. Many of the domestic violence issues has to do with many families having little to no money. Some people developed mental health problems because of this. One lady is all alone in a rental property because her family moved out due to this lady having bipolar disorder. Officer John told me the town’s residents have seen this lady aimlessly wondering the streets like a zombie. Officer John had to handle a couple of truly tragic episodes. One young men committed suicide because he suffered from severe depression because he did not have enough money to take care of his wife and unborn child. His death left his wife a widow. One other young man was killed by a freight train because he apparently “did not know it was there” according to witnesses. His death was also suspected to be a suicide.

The problems faced in the a number of rural areas in Illinois are not the same as those in the state’s urban and suburban regions. But these problems are there, and for the people in the county I visited these issues are real and endemic. The county I have described has no mental health clinic, and no psychiatrist. Officer John deals strictly with law enforcement, and he cannot do anything to help those suffering from mental issues unless they commit a crime. And even he cannot force any of these individuals to take their medications (if they are given any) unless ordered by a judge. So many of those individuals maybe a ticking time-bomb ready to go off and there is nothing officer John can do about it until after the fact. As officer John told me, a lot of the politicians are more interested in the urban and suburban areas than in his little rural town. And this is creating a further disconnect between the people of the state of Illinois that has yet to be addressed.

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