The Chicago Reporter points out that most of the 54 schools Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to close are in the city’s most violent neighborhoods.
Nearly half of the 1,054 youths murdered in Chicago during the past five years were killed within census tracts where schools are closing. In all, these tracts only cover about a quarter of the city. West Englewood’s Goodlow Elementary had the highest number of young people killed within its tract of all the closing schools, with 37 overall. To the Southeast, Altgeld isn’t far behind, with 34 youth homicides.
On the one hand, this makes sense. CPS is closing schools in neighborhoods with declining populations, and, therefore, declining enrollment. Anyone who can get out of a crime-ridden neighborhood is going to get out. In the 2000s, Englewood lost nearly a quarter of its population, dropping from 40,222 to 30,654. In the 1960s, before Englewood began its transition from middle class to lower class, its contained 97,595 residents. That’s a Detroit level of depopulation.
Unfortunately, the very factor that is causing the school closings -- gang violence -- is going to make life even worse for the remaining students, who will have to cross gang boundaries to reach their new schools, thus exposing themselves to potential violence.
The Reporter discusses the dilemma faced by 14-year-old Englewood resident Lametrios West:
Within this environment, young people have taken to forming cliques along neighborhood lines. The block where Lametrios lives, at West 64th Street and South Lowe Avenue, falls under the umbrella of the Black Disciples gang, but it is also run by a clique called “Lowe Life”--what his Teamwork Englewood mentor Michael Tidmore calls “a gang within a gang.”
Tidmore presents Lametrios with a hypothetical scenario in which the youngster heads toward Paul Robeson High School, just one major block to the southeast. “Would those guys on Parnell [Avenue, one block east] connect you to Lowe Life?” Lametrios nods matter-of-factly. “Even though they might know [Lametrios is] not a part of that, just because he lives on Lowe, if they do something to him, it’s like they did something to all of Lowe,” Tidmore explains.
In other words, the school closings may make gang violence in depopulated neighborhoods even worse -- thus contributing to their continuing death spirals. There’s an argument that the city’s most blighted neighborhoods deserve more public investment, to prevent them from getting even worse. There’s also an argument that, in the case of Englewood, people have voted with their feet to abandon it, and the city only has a responsibility to provide an appropriate level of services for those who remain. In this instance, the marketplace seems to have won.