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PREMIUM LEGAL RESOURCES LEGAL FORMS ASK A LAWYER

AFRICAN-AMERICAN VIEWS

African-Americans have real concerns regarding the economic vitality of their communities. Specifically, they blame the lack of jobs and economic development in their areas for a variety of social problems such as crime, gangs, a lack of respect for the community, and the neighborhood social structure.

Contributing to these problems is their perception of a pervasive inequality or racism within society. They point to the flight of jobs and corporate downsizing as affecting their communities disproportionately. They experience a lack of support or response to their area by sectors such as police, social services, and government. They describe it as:

"They never come, the police never come."

"I notice in white neighborhoods that if a robbery occurs there are 500 police officers easy, two ambulances, one fire truck and the mayor."

"Things that are blown off in the African-American community are treated differently in white communities."

"The system doesn't work for African-Americans."

Crime in African-American communities results from both families and communities breaking down under economic pressure. Either both parents must work or the family has to separate in order to get support from the welfare system. This leaves children alone and unsupervised, susceptible to gangs, violence, and drugs. "Unemployment results in crime...." one said. "You're really not going to stop crime until you get all people on a mechanism for supporting their families on a humane basis," another commented.

They overwhelmingly identify crime as drugs in the neighborhood, gangs on the street, and the availability of guns, particularly to children. While personal safety is an ongoing concern, there is even stronger concern over the influence of gangs and drugs on their children.

Like most of the Illinois Voter Project focus groups, African- Americans want safe, productive communities where their children are supported by families that function and occupied in schools and recreation programs that will diminish the lure or drugs, gangs, and guns to young people.

They see the gangs as replacing the family structure that formerly supported their children. Gangs, they believe, become surrogate families when families fail. "I've never been in a gang because I was never allowed to associate with them. I didn't have time and I had my family to support me," said one young man. Another reflected on how her background differed:

"...Mom was still there. Maybe dad was working all the time. But, it was a foundation even though it may not have been your immediate family we got together as a family... Today you really don't know each other. Everyone is spread out. Everyone is doing their own thing."

African-Americans also recognize that "everybody doing their own thing" creates ineffective communities that tolerate and sanction crime. They speak of "neighborhood legends" where drug dealing by neighbors is overlooked if the drug dealer has some redeeming qualities such as "he looks out for the kids in the neighborhood, making sure they all get home from school safely." One described them as "a kind of bad guy or girl but she's still my neighbor."

They know this silence gives consent and leads to further neighborhood deterioration. They are scared, feeling trapped and alienated from the system. They say:

"I feel stuck...If I come out and say that [selling drugs] on the corner is not okay then I'm the bad guy and what's going to happen to me. If I'm the only person that's concerned that it's not okay, what happens to everyone else on the street?"

"Self preservation is what's happening here...."

Despite their despair, they are not without hope. African- Americans do believe political leaders and government can help "build communities" to alleviate economic disparity and create safe environments "Get the people to think that they can make a change...once you build their confidence that what they do matters, then they will try to work more to change their own communities," one woman said.

To build this confidence, they expect politicians to "come down" and talk to them directly. They want leadership who will be visible in the community to fully appreciate the neighborhood problems. One said:

"You can't do anything being one person. You need to have at least two people. There's got to be you and someone that's willing to listen to you to get anything done."

This notion of "coming down" also translates into a demand for "accountability" for many within these groups. "I think it's time for politicians to come and talk with us. They need to come to me and tell me what they're going to do about this situation," another woman said. Another said, "I want policemen to walk the beat in my neighborhood. If they see someone selling drugs on the corner, I want them to take them away."

The focus group participants recognize that the legislative process in Springfield results in inadequate solutions to their immediate problems. They believe politicians take their community for granted which allows other parts of the system to not respond.

They want to see the politicians in the community regularly checking up on the neighborhood and creating a dialogue with them. For many, it is the expectation that remedies only will happen if the political leaders learn first hand from the community. With this dialogue, they believe good, long term solutions to their problems can develop. They all agree, however, that the first step must address unemployment and underemployment.

WHITE VOTERS' VIEWS

Like other people in the Chicago metropolitan area, whites want a secure economic future and safe communities and good educations for their children. Also like others, they see the crime level in Chicago as making them feel unsafe. Unlike most other groups, this one listed high taxes, the inequity and ineffectiveness of taxes, and inefficient government bureaucracy as major problems.

Regarding crime, one said:

"I talk to people selling their homes (in my neighborhood) and they're so worried about gangs and drugs and that suddenly there's going to be bullets flying everywhere...so they get out."

Regarding taxes and government:

"I'm concerned with the taxes we pay. It's never enough. There's no money for us, but our government can vote themselves a raise. I think our government is the root of the problem. We pay a lot of taxes. Every year we pay more, but it's not enough. We pay these taxes and we get nothing for them."

What do they see as the causes of these problems? This group saw crime problems as being linked to taxes and government inefficiency. In the words of one participant:

"Our tax dollars are not coming back to our communities. I think it's contributing to an increase in crime. I think if the tax dollars we pay came back to us we'd have more social programs (and therefore less crime)."

Another said:

"I think the money gets eaten up in the process. Whether by design or accident--one way or another--we're getting a quarter back for our dollar. Along the way, everyone's got their hand out ..."

They also agreed that an underlying cause of the crime problem was idle young people. As one said:

"One of the things I don't see is things for young people to do after school. You can go anywhere in America and there's nothing for them to do. I would characterize it as a disinvestment in our youth."

Another said:

"Our tax dollars are not coming back to our communities. I think it's contributing to an increase in crime. I think if the tax dollars we pay came back to us we'd have more social programs (and therefore less crime)."

White voters felt that the solutions to crime problems should be a combination of individual citizen initiatives and long term plans for effective and accountable government involvement.

Regarding individual accountability, a participant said,

"We can push our government to do something and set up a program, say, to invest in our youth. Or we can walk out our door and find our sons and tell them to gather up ten of his friends to go plan basketball.. For me, I have, my faith lies in the people taking a certain action-- picking up a piece of trash in your front yard as opposed to lobbying whoever their congressman is to effect these major plans. Its a matter of community. For me, I have faith in the people and the decisions people make with their individual lives more so than any lobbying group."

Another said:

"Maybe we're going about this all wrong--to blame things on President Clinton when he doesn't have any more power over the situation than we do, to look all the way to Washington, D.C. to see my problems solved. Maybe what we ought to do is make more of those decisions that affect us right here instead of pushing everything off."

Regarding long term government solutions, one said:

"I for one would like to see long-term solutions that look like we're heading, we're turning the ship in a better direction."

Another said that she recognized that politicians had to constantly have their eye peeled on the next election but that this should not keep them from trying to develop long term solutions to the crime problem. In her words, "... the voters are not stupid. First of all we'd like more long term solutions."

HISPANICS VIEWS

Hispanic residents of Illinois have a vision of the future which includes safe communities, social and economic environments which support traditional family structures, and an increased emphasis on values, morals, and cultural respect. Threatening their vision of the future is the break-down of the family and community. They feel that the family and community break-down is contributing to the crime and violence they experience in their daily lives, often first-hand. They see crime is connected to gangs, and more specifically to drugs, the accessibility of weapons, shootings, and an overall lack of personal safety.

At the center of their concern are the children. Comments such as, ".. in the Hispanic community, family is very important", "children are the base", and "we need to get children off the streets" directed their focus on the relationship between family break-down, the moral and emotional neglect of children, and the prevalence of crime in their neighborhoods. They further said:

"The parents...most of the time they have to work...the father and the mother. That's where the problem of the break-down of families comes from. Once mom goes to work, who's going to watch the kids? Who's going to be guiding the kids?"

and,

"Teens, gangs, drugs, and killings are happening, but why are they happening? There has been a break-down of traditional family structures that is causing this."

Hispanic residents identify underemployment as the root economic cause of family and community break-down. They cite the need of two parents working in order to provide sufficient financial support. In the midst of two parents working, "if there's no baby-sitter, the children are latch- key kids." The need to make ends meet causes children to be left home after school unsupervised, susceptible to the pressures of gangs and drugs, and "lacking respect for their elders and moral responsibility". One participant stated, "We need to teach kids values and respect. There's no more respect from teens these days".

They are deeply concerned about the way gangs have replaced family structures. In their words, "Parents are absent from the education process...schooling, respect, and values should start with the family, even though there may be a single parent in the home." One participant described his concern for children and their lack of values as "Kids, ten and twelve years old are killing each other. And why? For ridiculous reasons...because they don't know any better." They also see a lack of recreational activities and job opportunities after school as creating opportunities for trouble for teenagers. The responsibility to provide recreational activities and job training is subsequently pushed more and more onto the school system. They describe their discomfort with this as follows:

"Schools are now responsible for taking on the roles that have been traditionally left to parents... they are being asked to do more with less."

Hispanic residents feel that school systems and teachers are expected to assume the familial responsibilities and are incapable of fulfilling their dual roles as parent and educator because of poor funding and administrative support.

The increase in crime has forced government and elected officials to address the issue. However, Hispanics express frustration with the current efforts to combat crime. For example, they find that many policies, such as the death penalty, take too long to implement and sentences are not enforced. As one participant stated, "Stop playing Let's make a deal and stick to the law...no more plea bargains! Let's stick to it! . They want more focus on the underlying causes of the crime problem:

"Building bigger and better prisons is, of course, not the answer [to the crime problem]. I think you have to get at the cause."

Their frustration has left many Hispanics doubtful that government can make a difference if policies and laws are not enforced and if services, such as police, are not responsive or targeted on the basis of need.

They want solutions that address the unique needs of their communities. In general they sense a "lack of cultural respect" both within their communities and more strongly from many politicians. Second, they also want solutions that target the underlying problem of the breakdown of the family. As several participants stated:

"I think long-range, we have to get back to our family traditions...help the individual out on the street".

and,

"Everything is connected. If you are poor, you may have to rob if you are without a job. And if you have a job, you can t get an education, and without an education you can t get a job."

Hispanics solutions to the crime problem include detention centers, sports and recreation programs, and early childhood intervention programs. They believe these kinds of programs will prevent crime by providing structure, authority, and responsibility for children and will offer support and advocacy for families. In sum, "Everything keeps coming back to the home."

Excerpted from a 1993 Report by The Illinois Voter Project For more information send e-mail to: [email protected]

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