Epicenter: Chicago – Reclaiming a City from Neoliberalism

About Andrea J. Ritchie

In many ways, all eyes are on Chicago. The city increasingly finds itself at the epicenter of multiple discourses of violence and safety – from hubristic Presidential tweets claiming federal intervention is necessary to address Chicago’s murder rate, to hand-wringing national headlines calling the city the “gang capital” of the United States, to threats to send migrants seeking refuge at the border to Sanctuary Cities like Chicago, to everyday corner conversations about the latest shooting, whether by a police officer or community member.

Chicago is also a hub of resistance, fighting back against a number of national trends, including racial profiling, police violence, discriminatory “stop and frisk” programs, intensified gang enforcement and surveillance, criminalization of poverty, targeting of migrants, continuing residential segregation, gentrification, attrition of public housing, and privatization of public education and public services. Movements across the country are looking to Chicago’s uniquely intersectional organizing and recent wins on several fronts, including:

  • securing reparations for survivors of police violence,
  • re-establishment of a trauma center on the city’s South Side,
  • termination of Dante Servin, the officer who killed Rekia Boyd,
  • unseating former District Attorney Anita Alvarez in the wake of the police murder of Laquan McDonald and subsequent cover-up,
  • a successful lawsuit forcing the City to enter into a consent decree focused on one of the nation’s most deadly and discriminatory police departments, and,
  • a spirited youth-driven campaign challenging investment in building a $95 million police training academy in a community devastated by decades of residential segregation, structural economic abandonment, and school and mental health facility closures.

The midwestern Democratic stronghold has thus become something of a bellwether. Politicians of all stripes across the country are using the Windy City’s woes as justification for “tough on crime” measures, and have been carefully monitoring former Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s political fortunes as he navigated debates, vigorous
protests, and advocacy campaigns around policing, gun violence, immigration enforcement, gang policing, public education, and city budgets.

Now, in the wake of Emmanuel’s unexpected declaration that he would not run for a third term, Chicago is facing a new future under a new Mayor and newly configured city council on hotly contested political terrain. Under the banner “Free the City, Heal the City,” Chicago’s cross-sectoral and intergenerational organizing community is calling on the new city leadership to adopt a whole new politic – one that conclusively rejects privatization of public goods, disinvestment from low-income communities and communities of color, and reliance on policing and criminalization as the primary response to social problems and substitute for social services and social goods. There is much we can learn from Chicago’s journey to this moment and the visions for the city that are emerging during this transition.

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Andrea J. Ritchie is Researcher in Residence on Race, Gender, Sexuality and Criminalization at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, the author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color and the co-author of Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women and Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. She is a recent part-time transplant to Chicago.