By Caleb Dunson, Chicago Votes Inaugural Brian Sleet Fellow
After a night of looting on Sunday, Chicago was trending on Twitter in a matter of hours, the thread rife with videos of people breaking into stores, snatching clothes, and fleeing police. Everyone had an opinion. Some people attributed the riots to the democratic leanings of the city, while others leveraged the moment to call out the economic inequality Chicago has been plagued by for decades. Some people just marveled at the destruction, using it to confirm their belief that Chicago is an incredibly dangerous place. It seems once again, Chicago has become a chess piece, used by outsiders, to fit political ends and construct personal narratives.
Donald Trump has had an obsession with Chicago since his 2016 campaign, and over his presidential term, Conservatives have swiftly turned Chicago into a euphemism for liberal-city-plagued-with-lawlessness. In recent weeks, Trump even deployed federal troops to the city to quell violence and preserve his strong man persona in the midst of his losing campaign.
Democratic Chicago officials largely rejected protesters’ calls to “defund the police” and ignored consent decree deadlines intended to ameliorate the Chicago Police Department’s numerous civil rights violations, instead opting to hash out personal beefs in internal meetings and engage in media mud-slinging.
This naked ambition on both sides of the aisle has done nothing for the city I so deeply cherish.
I am a Chicagoan, born and raised, and I have always had a profound love for my city. I was always there to celebrate when the light and warmth of the Christkindle Market cut through the cold bitter winters, stuff myself with fatty foods when the Taste of Chicago rolled around signaling the official start of summer, and march in the Bud Billiken Parade, savoring the last days of summer break and dreading my return to school.
I loved my city even as I watched kids my age killed so often it was no longer surprising, even as I saw Black people gunned down by my city’s police, even as I saw my community––the Austin neighborhood–– and others like it go without capital investment or government funding when we desperately needed it.
Though in recent years, Chicago has not gone for very long without making national headlines and efforts to address the problems in our communities have seemed to stagnate. It feels as if politicians, political pundits, and news media organizations are perfectly fine using the city to fit their narratives, but don’t want to do the work to help improve our city. No, that burden is left to the Good Samaritans in our neighborhoods.
My Block, My Hood, My City, After School Matters, The Greater Chicago Food Depository, A Safe Haven, Chicago Votes, and countless other community organizations in Chicago have been doing the work themselves for years. Resigned to the fact that no one is coming to save us, our communities have relied on each others’ strength and shown tremendous resilience. But as much great work as these organizations are doing, we cannot rely on a few to save a city of almost three million people.
It is time for our elected officials to step up and do the work they were hired to do. To Chicago’s politicians who have relied on organizations to do their jobs for them and to the news media organizations that have used Chicago’s violence to create sensationalized headlines, I have one request.
Get out in the community and do the work it takes to make our city better.
Caleb Dunson is an incoming freshman at Yale University and is Chicago Votes’ inaugural Brian Sleet Memorial Fellow.