Above: Illustration by Grae Rosa for Borderless Magazine
The murder of George Floyd by a white police officer May 25 has reignited a nationwide conversation about racism. People continue to march in support of Black Lives Matter and to demand an end to police brutality that has resulted in countless Black lives lost.
Chicago, a historically segregated city, has long struggled with racial tensions and inequities. Latinx and Black neighborhoods have borne the brunt of disinvestment, and the recent social unrest has exacerbated racial tensions there. Black Chicagoans were harassed and attacked in some predominantly Latinx neighborhoods in recent weeks and community organizers responded with calls for unity and deeper conversations about how white supremacy is normalized in American society.
Borderless Magazine asked Black and Latinx community leaders in Chicago how we can address structural racism. Here’s what they said.
End Youth Incarceration
Amber Farrell, member of Black Lives Matter
I’m going to lift up two of Black Lives Matter Chicago’s 10 demands: Close the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. It’s the largest juvenile prison in the country. Also, remove police from schools.
One way to address structural racism is to completely dismantle the systems fueled by the racist conflation of Blackness and criminality. Our current system of criminalization is less about individual “crimes” and more about treating Black adults and youth like fodder for the reimagined slavery project that is the prison system. This is evidenced by the outsized percentage of Black youth that are held in these prisons.
I worked at Harlan Community Academy, a predominantly Black high school in Chicago, where I witnessed both minor infractions and normal high school behavior addressed with police. I once saw a Black student put into the back of a police car for throwing a snowball during a fire drill. So if we can eliminate these tools of violence — police and prisons — altogether we can end the pipelining of students from schools to prisons and detention centers. If we do that we’ll also be forced to reimagine public and school safety. Hopefully we learn to address it with care and support rather than punishment.
We can address harm with restorative justice practices and by focusing on what a young person needs. Teachers, students, and youth activists in Chicago have long been demanding that resources like counselors, nurses and after school programs replace police and carceral systems. And to be honest nurses, counselors and after-school programs should be the bare minimum needs addressed.
Oscar Chacon, Executive Director of Alianza Americas
The most important thing we can do is to take a hard look inward in our own communities. Most Latinos do not really understand white supremacy in the United States. Nor do we understand it as something that we have been injected with over centuries as the Europeans came in and claimed the Americas as the new land they wanted to own.
We’ve all been infected by these ideas and we don’t even realize it. So unless we take a hard look at how white supremacist ideas have shaped us, it’s going to be very hard for people with Latin American origins to really understand Black Americans’ struggles are really our struggles too.
Latinos have benefited from every major shift in the United States that African Americans fought and died for. From the Voting Rights Act, to the right to be a citizen in the U.S. because you were born in the U.S., to labor rights. These are all deeply connected to struggles led by African Americans. They didn’t struggle and die for those rights just so that African Americans could have them. We all have those rights.
Seen from the dominant culture lenses, meaning white, a lot of people assume Latino communities are monolithic. We are not. There are 130 million people of African descent in Latin America, which makes up a quarter of the population.
We must stand in solidarity with Black Americans. We must stand together and have Black people’s backs as a community.
Fund Neglected Communities
Arielle Maldonado, Director & Co-founder of The Healing Corner
The city should budget to provide more access to mental health resources, public education, after-school programming and job training for neglected communities on the South and West Side of Chicago. These communities are predominantly Latino and Black.
When you look at the numbers most of our city’s budget is allocated to the Chicago Police Department. If communities had more resources then a lot of problems would be prevented before anyone would feel the need to call 911.
Police officers answer calls for mental health crises when they are not trained specifically for that. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel closed half of the city’s mental health centers and cut funding for mental health and substance abuse programs.
The city also cut a lot of funding for violence prevention organizations. The people who were on the streets working to improve relationships and decrease violence are not able to be there anymore because they had to find another job.
Structural racism comes, in part, from the government choosing to fund the police over neglected communities. Our priorities need to be changed. If they did there would be less of a need for police to get involved in these issues.
Defund the Police
Xanat Sobrevilla, organizer with Organized Communities Against Deportation
It’s not a new idea for us. Black and brown and immigrant people need to address policing in this country to ensure our survival and ability to thrive. We continue to see the violence perpetrated by police.
We need to get rid of police surveillance tools like the gang database, which are used to harass and target Black and brown members of our community. Particularly young men who may or may not actually be affiliated with gangs. We know people who are in the gang database who have gotten pulled over by police and the person in the cop car immediately calls for backup.
Policing contributes to the cycle of violence that we live through as immigrants. We have people in immigration proceedings because of the gang database. Chicago calls itself a “Sanctuary City” but our Welcome City Ordinance has carve outs like the gang database that allow Chicago police officers to collaborate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. We need to get rid of those carve outs and the gang database in order to address the racial profiling and structural racism in society.
We need to defund the police. Close to $4 million a day is spent by the Chicago Police Department. That’s 40% of the city’s budget. Mayor Lori Lightfoot could get rid of the gang database right now and reduce the CPD’s budget. Instead she’s supporting more police surveillance and a new gang database to replace our current one.
It’s really important to support and protect Black lives and defunding the police is incredibly important for the immigrant rights movement too.
Elect Representatives Who Listen
Byron Sigcho Lopez, alderman of the 25th Ward in Chicago
We need to make sure that we have candidates who really reflect the values of our communities. We need to organize on the ground, organize neighborhoods and organize especially electorally. We need representatives that are not working for Wall Street or for pharmaceutical companies or developers. We need representatives who will listen to their constituents and to people on the ground.
To see people suffering in the middle of a pandemic, like we are seeing right now with the lack of resources, is just not acceptable.
Kofi Ademola, abolitionist and adult mentor of GoodKids MadCity
Racism is interconnected with capitalism and patriarchy. It is very entrenched and very much a part of every institution in this country. We have to know historically we are on indigenous land and Europeans came as colonizers and imperialists. On top of that they used African labor to build up their material world. That was the foundation of capitalism in this country. There has to be a repair for the damage done to indigenous communities and for the generational trauma from 400 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow.
If we really want to get to a place of equity and reciprocity then we can’t pretend that this nation wasn’t founded on white supremacy. To address structural racism we have to abolish repressive systems that produce mass incarceration, poverty and the exploitation of labor.