Chicago’s Gangs: A Product of Institutionalized Racism
Chicago is a city infamous for its ruthless gang violence. Even after much legislation attempting to solve the problem, gang warfare is still a destructive force in Chicago’s culture. It continues to squeeze the life out of black youth whose blood has been splattered all across Chicago’s streets. Many black youth grow up in abject poverty and see only two paths for their future: prison or death.Their mothers feel hopeless, as they stand unable to stretch their money for electricity, rent, insurance and food. Black communities endure subpar living conditions as seen through the decaying housing, substandard schools, drugs, and poverty. After examining these appalling social conditions, people often claim that the gangs that terrorize the community with violence are attributed to some “innate”delinquency or aggression amongst black youth. In reality, Chicago street gangs are a product of social conditions created by institutional racism, police brutality, and white vigilantism. Chicago’s state-sanctioned racism produces “thugs” and systematically strips the morality from people and replaces it with a stone cold heart that is seen as necessary to survive on these mean streets.Blacks have been systematically disempowered and live in the most violent areas, not because we are “naturally” aggressive, but because of economic conditions that have been imposed on us by malicious outside forces. The obstacles that were, and still are, put in place, to halt black socioeconomic aspirations, has resulted in black youth acquiring detrimental social, economic, and political habits that are exemplified in the gangs that roam Chicago’s streets. The gangs that we have in our community, the bloody knives that lay astray in the pavement, the white chalk on our sidewalks, the yellow tape surrounding vacant lots, and the rapid succession of bullets that are fired at one another are the cumulative effects of systematic institutionalized racism.
Chicago: A History of Racist Brutality
African-Americans that previously resided in the Klan-run South came to Chicago during the great migration, lured in by the promises of jobs and political rights. However, these opportunities were systematically denied. Since blacks have entered this city they have been met with a level of bigotry so disgusting, and so pervasive, that it is a core aspect of Chicago’s culture. African-Americans seeking tocreate a better life would still face the very same racism and violence they found in the south. However, instead of it being by the Klan, it would be by the Chicago Housing authority and white mobgroups. 
When blacks first came to Chicago they competed with the Irish over a scarce labor and housing market. In 1919, racial animosity reached a boiling point when a white person hit a blackchild with a rock while he was swimming in Michigan Lake. The black child drowned to death, but the Chicago Police Department refused to arrest the white aggressor. Blacks led a peaceful protest demanding justice, and as a result of their efforts they were viciously attacked by white mob groups. Whites entered the predominately black area on the Southside, terrorizing the black population through arsons and assaults.  Nobody, not even children, were spared in the attacks. They even sought to enter a predominately black hospital to terrorize the black patients there. As whites continued to set fire to black neighborhoods, the Chicago Fire Department was not allowed to operate in these communities.  Hundreds of African Americans, including women and children, were left homeless on the streets after fires demolished their homes in these senseless attacks. Richard J. Daley was 17 years old at the time and one of the leaders of the Irish Hamburg Athletic Club that led this senseless attack on the black community. Instead of being punished for these clearly racist attacks, he was made Mayor of Chicago, where he would continue to push and support racist legislation to disenfranchise the black community.  Indeed, the white-ran Chicago housing authority from its inception worked to ensure that blacks lived in segregated neighborhoods.
Blacks were confined to the Southside and these areas were treated with inconceivable neglect by government agencies. The “Neighborhood Composition Rule” ordered that housing was to be segregated. This resulted in Black people being segregated in the Southside in what is known as “The Black Belt.” Of course, all of the housing that the Chicago Housing Authority set aside for blacks was decrepit; many apartments lacked plumbing, were overcrowded, and far below requirements for healthy sanitation. Even wealthy blacks were forced into substandard neighborhoods due to racial discrimination. As a direct result of these social conditions, the infant mortality rate for blacks sky-rocketed to well above the national average. Eventually, the neighborhood Composition rule was eventually struck down. This was met by complete outrage by white vigilante groups who, once again, terrorized the local black population with heartless violent confrontations. While blacks were portrayed as being “violent”, many times it was not the “delinquent” black youth attacking innocent peaceful white people but vice-versa. Indeed, during this time blacks lived under increased threats of violence and fear from whites. Blacks had no choice but to live in the ghetto because of the terrorism inflicted by whites against those would dared to live on the outskirts of their state created locus. [7 ]During these times, overt discrimination against blacks reigned supreme in every area of Chicago’s society, such as employment, housing, health care, and every other opportunity for upward social mobility.
Modern Day Disenfranchisement of Blacks in Chicago
In America, the common belief is that Civil Rights legislation ended discrimination against African-Americans. The fact of the matter is that blacks in Chicago are still discriminated against at unprecedented levels!
Discrimination and apartheid-like conditions characterize Chicago’s health-care system. Despite there being high levels of violence and shootings on the Southside, there is no trauma center to operate on victims, leaving youth to die in the streets. Yet, there are plenty of hospitals and trauma centers in affluent white areas despite the low levels of violence.  Blacks that are exposed to this violence develop post-traumatic stress disorder, similar to troops returning from combat. For many it isn’t “post-trauma” but a continuous cycle. In spite of this, Rahm Emmanuel has plans to close down mental health facilities in Chicago’s low income areas. In the current hospitals located in Chicago, blacks face rampant discrimination. Several studies have indicated that black patients receive excessive wait times and have been subject to expensive deposit requirements prior to treatment.  According to a study from UCLA, researchers found that racial discrimination is the key factor in explaining why blacks suffer from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and strokes, more than any other population.  However, this discrimination not only affects patients, but also workers. Jackson Park Hospital has recently been ordered to pay $80,000 after being exposed for racist practices against its black workers.
Chicago is divided between affluent whites on the north-side and impoverished blacks on the South-side but even blacks with wealth find themselves unable to move out of the ghetto. Though it is illegal, housing discrimination continues to affect African-Americans in Chicago. All Civil-Rights legislation did was ban “No Colored” signs but racism in the housing market continues to disenfranchise blacks. African-American borrowers were given higher-interest on subprime mortgages when compared to whites – even when they qualified for much better deals. Even “blockbusting” referring to racist practices by real-estate agents, against blacks, was pioneered in Chicago! Today, Chicago stands as the most racially segregated city in America. 
Even after the Supreme Court’s Brown V.S Board of Education decision to desegregate schools, Chicago’s schools remain segregated. According, to the Progressive Labor Party “In 2000, 54% of black public school students in Chicago attended schools that did not have a single white student enrolled, 274 schools were 90% or more black, and 173 of those schools, 30% of all Chicago public schools, were 100% black.”  Many whites attend schools with greater infrastructure and resources, located in suburban areas. Chicago Public Schools has nine elite selective enrollment schools that students must “test into” in order to get a quality education. These culturally biased “selective-enrollment” tests give Chicago Public School the ability to keep schools segregated. Students unable to test into these schools are shipped into school-to-prison pipeline lacking libraries and adequate material needed to teach the classroom. The Chicago Teachers union indicated that “Chicago Public Schools remains one of the urban school systems that[’s]“only a few percentage points from an experience of total apartheid.”  These schools are fundamentally preparing black youth for a life of solitary confinement. Only 3 out of 100 Chicago Public School freshmen earn a Bachelor degree by the age of twenty-five. Education for black students is still not equal to that of whites.
Discrimination continues to be perpetuated against African-Americans in the job market. Studies have found that applicants with more “Black-Sounding” names on resumes (i.e. Jamal, Lakeshia) were less likely to be called back for an interview than applicants with more “White-Sounding” names(I.E John, Emily) even when credentials were identical.  Even more troubling, a study found employers to be more likely to hire a white person with a criminal record than a black person without one, even when qualifications were exactly the same.
Foreigners, specifically Arab merchants, own the majority of stores in African-American communities within Chicago. These are pseudo-grocery stores that sell inflated unhealthy goods to the community and often collaborate with gangs in the illegal drug trade. The black community has a huge lack of black business ownership; so much so, when there is a store owned by blacks you often see the sign “black-owned business” in the window. The majority of the stores in the black community should be owned by blacks; the fact that we have signs saying “black-owned” business demonstrates the severity of our situation. The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of black entrepreneurs who seek to set-up business in the black community, but they face constant barriers through discriminatory loan practices by banks. Banks have consistently been found not to loan to blacks, or will charge themhigher interest rates (regardless of their credit!) than they dowhites and other minority entrepreneurs.
Auto-shop dealerships in Chicago consistently discriminate against African-Americans. A study in Chicago sent various races to car dealerships to purchase a car. They discovered that auto dealerships offered lower prices to white males than blacks, even in identical financial situations on interest rate loans. Black males on average were priced twice the amount of whites, and black females were ask to pay more than three times the amount as white males.These types of discriminatory practices are responsible for minorities depending upon public transportation such as the CTA(Chicago Transit Authority). These buses are often extremely overcrowded, breeding hostilities between customers and causing unnecessary conflict from the congested environment.
The Origin of Gang Violence
Black street gangs do not come out of the sky. Their origins are undeniably rooted in state imposed substandard social conditions. Gangs result from the myriad ways in which this racist government has confined black youth in the most atrocious of social conditions. It is undeniably accredited to the denial of economic opportunities, denial of quality education, and racist violence inhumanely inflicted by covetous white vigilante groups. Discrimination against black youth runs rampant on the job market. And as hip-hop Artist Nas once said “Anytime brothers can’t get jobs, they rob. A man would rather die than live on his knees and starve.”Street gangs allow people to experience a bond that surrogates climbing up the socio-economic ladder, the same one that has systematically excluded blacks.
Unlike parasitic western capitalists that rob and kill the resources of entire countries out of pure greed, inner-city youth participate in these actions for pure survival. Gangs go to war with one another to protect their “turf”. As Freeway once said “Even though what we do is wrong… don’t you know a cops sole purpose is to lock us down and throw away the key. But without this drug shit your kids ain’t got no way to eat?” The drugs that gangs sell act as a mechanism for historically impoverished and disenfranchised people to have a taste at what being wealthy feels like. Often times, the drug economy is sometimes the only way in which they can provide for their families. Indeed, between 1967 and 1982, nearly 50% of Chicago’s manufacturing jobs were eliminated. This devastated Chicago’s black community and gangs skyrocketed. Of course, such an event is inevitable under capitalism which seeks to outsource to foreign countries for cheap labor to increase profits. John M. Hagedorn writes that “The conditions in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods came to resemble impoverished Third World countries, and police harassment was ever-present.” Also worth noting is that the Chicago government has also responded to white street gangs and black street gangs differently. Contrary to popular belief, the first gangs in Chicago were not black but white, specifically Irish. Unlike Black Street gangs that formed out of economic necessity, these gangs formed amongst white youth to terrorize black communities who dared to defy racist segregation laws.
Chicago’s government decided to take a rehabilitation approach with these white Irish gangs and transform them into “respectable” members of society. Indeed, the entire Irish gang that brutalized and decimated black communities was transformed into the Chicago Police Department. Richard D. Daley, who was a dedicated member of one of these gangs, later became Mayor. There has never been a serious attempt by the Chicago government to rehabilitate black gang members into society. Instead, the government has only responded through police occupation of black communities. 
Also, the black community has taken numerous steps to deal with gang-violence and all of them were foiled by the government. Fred Hampton, the leader of the Black Panther Party For Self Defense, attempted to form an alliance with Chicago’s black street gangs to turn them into an activist organization. Instead of allowing this alliance to manifest, the FBI would instead forge letters between the two groups to breed hostility. The Chicago Police Department would eventually assassinate the Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton. This alliance had the potential to unify black street gangs and end the violence that they were perpetrating against one another but the government would not allow for it to materialize. Today, gang violence continues to take the lives of black youth.
1.Housing: “A Short History,” http://southside.uchicago.edu/History/Housing.html
2 “Chicago Race Riot of 1919″.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-04.http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/110488/Chicago-Race-Riot-of-1919
3.) Tuttle, William. Race Riot Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (Urbana, IL; University of Illinois Press, 1970)
4) RACE NOT SPACE: A REVISIONIST HISTORY OFGANGS IN CHICAGO John M. Hagedorn* gangresearch.net/Archives/hagedorn/articles/racenotspace.pdf
5) Housing: “A Short History,” http://southside.uchicago.edu/History/Housing.html
6) Arnold Richard Hirsch, “Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960″, University of Chicago,1998,http://books.google.com/books?id=px0PuO7GWhsC&pg=PP1&ots=9I1rYsYyNh&dq=%22Making+the+Second+Ghetto%22+hirsch&sig=IPgKY-xgpCRZwpCsboI_rk0UPgc#PPA18,M1
7 ) Arnold Richard Hirsch, “Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960″, University of Chicago,1998,http://books.google.com/books?id=px0PuO7GWhsC&pg=PP1&ots=9I1rYsYyNh&dq=%22Making+the+Second+Ghetto%22+hirsch&sig=IPgKY-xgpCRZwpCsboI_rk0UPgc#PPA18,M1
8) Asraa MustufaFriday, June 17 2011 http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/06/chicago_activists_push_for_trauma_center_on_the_south_side.html Chicago Activists Push for Trauma Center on the South Side
9) “I See Everything Through This Tragedy” February 12, 2012, 11:00 am ET by Alex Kotlowitz http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/interrupters/i-see-everything-through-this-tragedy/
10) Karen Jordan Activists rally against mental health clinic closures
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=8624017
11) Race, Health Care and the Law Speaking Truth to Power!
Institutional Racism in US Health Care http://academic.udayton.edu/health/07humanrights/racial01c.htm
12) Discrimination Contributes To African-American Health Disparitiea http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/55345.php 01 Nov 2006 – 3:00 PST
13) Chicago’s Jackson Park Hospital Settles Discrimination Charges
Written by Molly Gamble | November 22, 2011http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/chicagos-jackson-park-hospital-settles-discrimination-charges.html
14) Black Borrowers Face Higher Hurdles in Lending, Study ShowsBy Stefanos Chen Feb 24th 2012 1:48PM
15) A Requiem for Blockbusting: Law, Economics, and Race-Based Real Estate Speculation Dmitri Mehlhornhttp://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?articl The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve
16 Chicago Most Segregated City In America, Despite Significant Improvements In Last Decade
17 http://www.plp.org/leaflets-pamphlets/pamphlets/Racism_pamphlet2.pdf PROGRESSIVE LABOR PARTY ON RACE AND RACISM
18) The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve
19) Consortium for School Research at the University of Chicago
20) “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2003.
21) The Mark of a Criminal Record Devah Pager Northwestern Universityhttp://www.princeton.edu/~pager/pager_ajs.pdf
22) http://www.dartmouth.edu/~blnchflr/papers/finalrestat.pdf DISCRIMINATION IN THE SMALL BUSINESS CREDIT MARKET
23) Race and Gender Discrimination in Bargaining for a New Car
By IAN AYRES AND PETER SIEGELMAN*http://islandia.law.yale.edu/ayers/Ayres%20Siegelman%20Race%20and%20Gender%20Discrimination%20In%20Bargaining%20%20for%20a%20New%20Car.pdf
24)) NAS LYRICS “Hold Down The Block” (feat. Mark B. Mayfield) http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/nas/holddowntheblock.html
26) Freeway, What We Do http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/freeway/whatwedo.html
27 ) RACE NOT SPACE: A REVISIONIST HISTORY OFGANGS IN CHICAGO John M. Hagedorn* gangresearch.net/Archives/hagedorn/articles/racenotspace.pdf
28) Rates of of poverty, violence, and other indicators of social exclusion resemble Third world cities like Rio de Janiero, Cape Town, and Lagos more than they resemble lower-class European urban aieasofpoverty. JohnM.Hagedorn, “Youth in Organized Armed Violence in Chicago” in Neither War Nor Peace: International
29) RACE NOT SPACE: A REVISIONIST HISTORY OFGANGS IN CHICAGO John M. Hagedorn* gangresearch.net/Archives/hagedorn/articles/racenotspace.pdf
32) Ibid. Also see The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas.