by José Rico and Pilar Audair-Reed of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Greater Chicago.

Chicago is overdue for a reckoning on racism.

The rallying cries affirming that Black Lives Matter have caused incredible changes to our public discourse about race. The specter of racial injustice has plagued our city long before the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery made headlines worldwide and spurred a wave of resistance throughout the nation. Leaders in government, business, and civic life are now making new calls to eliminate systemic racism. Our response to these calls for action must meet the moment, and move beyond statements and diversity training to substantially improve the quality of life for Black and Brown Chicagoans. 

As a city, we must gather together, representing the full range of diversity Chicago has to offer, and engage in a process of reconciliation—one that aligns on principles of solidarity as it relates to policing, health and wellness, and neighborhood investments. We must also come together to repair our relationship, tell our truths, and unite in our shared aspirations. And white people should indeed join, and come with open hearts, open wallets, and a commitment to following the leadership of people who have long existed under the heel of racism and poverty. 

These principles of solidarity operate with the necessary awareness that the freedoms of Black and Brown Chicagoans are bound together, even as racial injustice affects each community in unique ways; we cannot achieve equity while we are being killed by police or criminalized and separated from our families. 

One principle of solidarity for Black and Brown Chicagoans is that we are overpoliced and underprotected.

Black Chicagoans have faced the disproportionate brunt of police brutality, a byproduct of neighborhood disinvestment and school closures with subsequent increases in the Chicago Police Department’s budget. This has resulted in Black people being overpoliced and underprotected, while Brown Chicagoans have been forced to contend with the terror and surveillance of a police database that has facilitated racist enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For many years, community activists have called for the elimination of the police database because it was used to target Black people and justify their harassment and arrest. That same database has also been used by ICE to target immigrants and their neighbors for “snatch-and-grab” operations, often waiting for people as they drop off their children at school or are returning from work. Where police officers have literally kept their foot on the necks of Black Chicagoans, ICE officers have ripped Brown families apart, deporting people and spreading fear, directed by an anti-Mexican regime in Washington that promotes locking children in cages to deter immigration. 

Policing in its current form has not served and protected people who just need direct assistance for everyday, human needs. Instead, the funding to provide those supports has been usurped by bloated police budgets. The adequate funding of mental-health clinics, trauma-informed crisis intervention, school counselors, and community centers has instead been dedicated to law enforcement, with the presumption that policing is the answer. We must bear in mind that budgets are moral documents. New York and Los Angeles have committed to redirecting police funding to support those services, leaving Chicago as the largest city to not examine its policing budget. We must link racial equity with reallocating policing dollars toward the adequate funding of public schools and essential human services in Black and Brown neighborhoods, in addition to citizen oversight of law enforcement.

We must also heed the cries of communities that are suffering from environmental racism and uneven access to quality health care. The air is filled with ambulance sirens and Hilco demolition dust, adding insult to the injury of a pandemic that takes a toll on the lungs. Neighborhoods like Little Village and Roseland have been hearing the constant ring of ambulance sirens since March. We now know the tragic reality that the coronavirus pandemic has hit Black and Brown Chicagoans hardest, a direct product of racial disparities not in access to health care, but in providing early, affordable, and direct health services to people with underlying conditions before COVID-19. Ailing people go to area hospitals when they become really sick, causing financial stress to community hospitals in Black and Brown communities that are already underresourced to treat the most sick people.This has caused hospitals like St. Anthony and Roseland to lose staff and face budget disasters, even though they have few beds to spare. 

This calls for a principle of solidarity to value and provide health care for our most vulnerable residents. We need to pass legislation that strengthens hospital community benefit requirements by mandating that money be allocated to the direct provision of care and activities impacting social determinants of health. In addition, we must commit to instituting a health equity fund, which would require hospitals that don’t meet benefit requirements to contribute the difference to public health clinics in medically disadvantaged areas, to ensure meaningful connection to health services for people in all neighborhoods.

For every neighborhood to truly be part of an equitable Chicago, we must ensure that residents from every part of town have free and equitable access to the institutions, opportunities, resources, and amenities that are concentrated in certain pockets of our city. Given the role that the business community plays in providing access, resources, and opportunities in our city, they must become part of the solution rather than continue to engage in policies and practices that perpetuate inequity in order to increase their bottom line. We must invest in our neighborhoods just so we can provide a home for everyone. A recent report from the Urban Institute found that majority-white neighborhoods receive 4.6 times more private-market investment per household than majority-Black neighborhoods and 2.6 times more private-market investment than majority-Latino neighborhoods at the median. Banks should redirect investments to neighborhoods in the Invest South-West Program, which was created by the mayor last December to place $750 million worth of public investments into ten Chicago neighborhoods on the south and west sides, with a call to action for banks to match what’s allocated. We need private investors to allocate $4 of investment in a Black or Brown neighborhood for every $1 of investment in a white neighborhood, to offset for decades of wealth being usurped from the finance community by predatory financial practices. This seems like a lot of money, but still does not offset the public funds that corporations have received in the form of tax breaks, TIF dollars, contracts, and acquisitions that have been doled out over the years. 

There cannot be true economic and social recovery from the impact of COVID-19 and systemic racism without a reconciliation process that involves white people acknowledging and relinquishing disparate power and privilege, and where Black and Brown people overcome divisions to achieve shared policy outcomes and to practice mutual cooperation that builds community sustainability. The moment calls for commitments that are large enough in scope to address the suffering that almost two million Chicagoans face every day. The moment calls for leaders with courage who can lead with their hearts.

When people build solidarity across their differences, face hard truths, and set bold goals, we can solve our most pressing problems and transform lives. Chicago has an opportunity to take the lead, and in doing so, we can set an example for the rest of the nation to follow.

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