My interest began with the story of Chicago so that is where I am going to start. In the summer of 2012 Chicago experienced a huge spike in gang violence. After years of a downward trend in gang and youth violence in one summer there is were more murders in Chicago than there were troop losses in Afghanistan. The more startling statistic was that 508 murders had occurred in Chicago in 2012 and over 1,800 shootings. Its hardly the murder capital of America though, that belongs to New Orleans, but the spike in murders is fascinating because it increased by 19% from the year before. So I began to wonder what factors lead to such a dramatic increase in the space of months. What contributed to this phenomena, will it get worse and can we predict it?
Lets look at who is involved in youth crime in Chicago. But I must also start by saying that the data and what it tells us is interesting, but it is pretty self evident, the stats tell the same story.
According to the Chicago Police Department (CPD), there were 22,877 arrests of youth 17 and under in 2012 (some youth may be arrested more than once). This represents a nearly 27% decline in juvenile arrests since 2009. (Arresting Justice 2, 8/13)
Expressed in per capita rates, in 2012, black youth were arrested 7.6 times per 100 youth, five times more frequently than Hispanic youth (1.5 arrests per 100 youth) and 10 times more frequently than white youth (0.7 arrests per 100 youth), (Cook, Czykieta, Mack, Skrable, & Kaba 8/13). Of the murders in Chicago in 2012 over 80% of the victims were African American. They also make up 60% of the prison population across America.
Let me make clear, while I am interested in the racial dimensions of youth and adolescent crime, its isn’t my sole interest (it is a part of a wider narrative). My primary aim is to better understand the factors that contribute to all forms of youth delinquency. The storytelling will give us a picture of what all young people go through, delinquent or otherwise. And eventually when we move out of the fishbowl that is urban poverty, we will explore youth delinquency in rural areas which will tell its own story. My hope, is to develop characteristics of youth crime that tell similar stories. When we look at London, England we will examine what happens in semi rural areas where largely white young people are the subject of our inquiries but we’ve got a lot to get through.
We are starting in Chicago, and the group mainly affected are African Caribbean young men. To summarise what we know so far, take a look at the Centre for American Progress’ 10 most startling facts about people of colour and the Criminal Justice System in the United States
As I was saying, the stats give us a clear story, but my problem is that its not the whole story. We know that there are a number of factors that collide to create disadvantage, the outcome of stats on arrest, incarceration, poverty tell us lots, but little about why. So lets look at what I’ve found so far.
The stats can be found in several places, we will start with the Chicago Police Departments murder stats. This gives us the background to begin telling our own story about the outcomes we are seeking to understand.
We are starting from the end and working backwards.
So we have the background, young people in poor areas tend to lack the social or economic infrastructure to support their healthy survival, broken family networks and dysfunctional neighborhoods lead to bad choices. Inevitably leading to the delinquency so many experience in their communities. It obstructs healthy outcomes.
In that short description we also know that there is so much to unpack. Lets start with what is community, neighborhood, and how those contribute to producing healthy, vibrant, young people.
This question is one of constant debate, what is a neighborhood? What makes a healthy neighborhood? When does a neighborhood become a community? And how do we know when a community or a neighborhood is a good or bad one?
Because we examine neighborhoods based on administrative boundaries does this stop our ability to analyse communities in ways that give us real answers? In other words, is the fact that we try to understand communities based on factors other than how the people within those communities actually live in them does this stop us getting the right answers to some of our most pressing problems?
We will begin to examine some of what I think contributes to more dynamic evidence.