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Feb 24, 2018

My town, Chi-Town

Co-produced with PRX Logo

Since 2000, a quarter-million black Chicagoans have left the city. The reasons for this reverse migration include decades of bad policy and broken promises on affordable housing, education and public safety. We’re taking a close look at those challenges in this week’s episode, along with some of the people who are rising to meet them.

First up, reporters Kevin Stark and Darnell Little from Chicago’s Data Reporting Lab investigate officials’ claims that police tactics have reduced the annual gun homicide count. They discovered that although authorities count violent crimes and homicides each year, they don’t track the number of people who survive shootings. Based on the data they collected, a different picture emerges: Chicago owes its drop in gun deaths to better medical care, not different approaches to policing.  

Next, The Chicago Reporter’s Kalyn Belsha examines what happened after the city voted in 2013 to shut down 50 public schools – more than any system in the country. The thinking, said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was to move kids out of failing facilities into better ones. But University of Chicago researchers found that most kids didn’t end up in schools that were much better than the ones they’d left. For some, things got significantly harder.

Finally, host Al Letson interviews Natalie Moore, a third-generation Chicagoan and journalist who’s written three nonfiction books about the city.

“What makes Chicago unique is that it’s diverse, yet segregated,” she says. “In Chicago, the city is about a third black, a third white and a third Latino. But we typically don’t live, work or play together. This wasn’t by accident.”

Dig Deeper

  • Read: Thousands of black students leave Chicago for other segregated districts
  • Read: The bleeding of Chicago

Credits

The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit, received funding from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation for this episode. All editorial decisions are made independently; donors receive no preferential coverage and do not influence the direction or findings of our reporting. 

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

 

  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:18:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Ledson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Ledson.
Speaker 2: Shots fired now for Cortez and Washington. I'll ask you to take a look at that one, for [inaudible 00:00:14] in that area.
Speaker 3: Hello, they need help on Road 1313 Sacramento, and they need help over at the [inaudible 00:00:22].
Al Ledson: It's Saturday, about one in the morning on Chicago's south side. Two reporters are driving around, monitoring the police scanner. Before long, they catch up with a shooting in progress.
Speaker 2: 1463. Can we just go ahead and [inaudible 00:00:36].
Speaker 3: 938 in place.
Al Ledson: On this block, about 15 minutes southwest of downtown, residents have gotten used to hearing gunshots.
Speaker 4: So, I'm looking at Chicago Scanner Twitter Feed. Male, 22, shot.
Al Ledson: As the paramedics respond, a skinny kid, about 12 years old, kicks a soccer ball next to his building.
Speaker 5: I already told the cops that it was a black truck like over there in the yard. We just hear gunshots ...
Al Ledson: He makes it sound like it's no big deal. But, President Trump has a different view. He's frequently lashed out, calling Chicago a "Total Disaster." Anyone who knows the city, understand there's so much more to it than the violence. Chicago Police Chief, Eddie Johnson, responded to the President's criticism this way, on WBEZ public radio in December:
Eddie Johnson: It ignores the hard work that the men and women and this department are doing to reduce this violence, and it also ignores the fact that the mayor has given us the resources that we need to reduce violence.
Al Ledson: Those resources included more than 1,000 additional police officers. Johnson said, "More cops on the street help bring down gun deaths."
Eddie Johnson: We're now 100 homicides down from last year.
Al Ledson: 100 fewer homicides. Those numbers sound impressive, but are police counting the right thing? If murders are down, why is the violence still leading some people to flee the city, while others hunker down to fight for their neighborhoods?
Kevin Stark and Darnell Little are journalists with the Data Reporting Lab of Chicago. They spend a lot of time crunching numbers to better understand the issues facing Chicago. As they started digging into how the city tracks violence, they realized officials may be paying attention to the wrong thing.
Kevin begins with the story of one man who's experienced gun violence for himself.
Kevin Stark: I meet up with 36 year old Lamar [Kaples 00:02:32] in the living room of his bungalow. He says he expected to spend a lot of his life on two wheels. That metallic blue Kawasaki Ninja. He'd ride it full throttle.
Lamar Kaples: A lot of rush ... it's fine. It's just like everything coming past you is a blur.
Kevin Stark: Especially on the highway late at night. Out there, he felt a level of freedom he didn't always enjoy day to day. In the blocks around his childhood home, he constantly kept up his guard to avoid getting caught in somebody else's problem. The kind they settle with gunfire.
Lamar Kaples: It was bad, but it wasn't this bad. You can't have a neighborhood store. People are going in there robbing them. It's terrible.
Kevin Stark: It's a different story for people who live in, or visit, Chicago's lakefront, the downtown loop in much of the north side, home to major league sports, cultural attractions and entertainment, world class shopping and dining. People on the city's largely black south and west sides, where Lamar lives, are dealing with decades of bad policy and broken promises rooted in deliberate racial segregation.
The interstates cut through their neighborhoods, and isolate them from the city that tourists see. Those same highways offer gang-mutual territory to Lamar.
Lamar Kaples: As I passed [inaudible 00:03:45], few of us out there. I passed them. State Trooper, passed them, too. They couldn't catch me. They couldn't catch me.
Kevin Stark: Eventually, though, bullets did. Twice. The first time, he got hit in the stomach while he was riding in a car. The second, a couple of years later, happened outside of a neighborhood restaurant.
Lamar Kaples: Someone came through shooting. I got hit in the back. I was trying to run, and you know, get out the way. Unfortunately, I was one of the ones that got shot. I felt like a feather.
Kevin Stark: He might have felt weightless, but a scar he rubs on his forehead makes it clear that he hit concrete. A bullet to his back put him in a wheelchair. Lamar says he thinks he recognizes at least one of the people who shot him from another neighborhood, but he has no idea why it happened. He was a steel worker, a bulked up guy who lifted weights after his shift at the mill. He had some brushes with the law, but he says he didn't have to run with a gang ...
Lamar Kaples: I wasn't raised that way.
Kevin Stark: To feel like a target. Chicago is not the large city where your most likely to get shot and killed. That distinction belongs to St. Louis, with 60 shooting deaths for every 100,000 people. Chicago still leads the pack with about 650 homicides in 2017, more than Los Angeles and New York City combined.
Darnell Little: But, those numbers don't tell the whole story.
Kevin Stark: That's my reporting partner, Darnell Little.
Darnell Little: The FBI tracks violent crimes on homicides, but it doesn't record how many shootings happen. Local law enforcement does the same thing, so there's no reliable count from police of how many people get shot and survive. But, someone does have that information: the Illinois Department of Public Health.

 

We filed a request with that agency, and Kevin and I got a few Excel spreadsheets from them.

 

Kevin Stark: I'm looking at two spreadsheets here. We have shootings and homicides. How does this line up with anecdotally what you've heard from people in communities on Chicago's south and west sides?

 

Darnell Little: So, if we look at this spreadsheet for homicides, from 1990 to 2015, and make a quick mind chart, we can easily see that homicides have significantly dropped over that time period.

 

Kevin Stark: This is essentially the story that we hear from police, that homicides are really high in the 90's and that it's been decreasing over time.

 

Darnell Little: Yes, but let's take a look at shootings. If we go over here to the spreadsheet, the trend line is pretty straight. It's actually even going up slightly.

 

Kevin Stark: This is a very different story. This is not the story of a city that has decline in gun violence. The shootings are either steady, or they're going up.

 

Darnell Little: Right, and so you look at just the homicides and you see one story. You look at the number of people being shot, and you see a different story.

 

Kevin Stark: The proof was in the billing. The State Public Health Department sent us hospital invoices. They showed at the same time, shootings increased in Chicago by 15%. Gun homicides dropped by 30%. Even though people are likelier than ever to get shot multiple times with what shooters call "RIP Bullets," designed to explode inside bodies on impact.

 

Darnell Little: So, if more people are getting shot with deadlier ammunition, why is the murder rate dropping?

 

Kevin Stark: Darnell stopped by the place that overhauled emergency medicine and changed the game for gunshot victims.

 

Stroger Represe: [Stroger 00:07:28] Hospital is really the nerve center of the trauma system here in Chicago. When you make that 911 call, you're far more likely to encounter an operator in the 911 center who has medical training. We've got 100 firehouses covering the city of Chicago. Every one of those firehouses has paramedics. Our fleet of ambulances are all equipped for advanced life support.

 

Kevin Stark: One of those ambulances took Lamar Kaples to St roger after his second shooting. All he remembered was the way he felt.

 

Lamar Kaples: Bumpy. Hurting every time they hit a bump, because I was already in pain.

 

Kevin Stark: Chicago's Chief Paramedic, Mary Sheridan, says her crews try to ease that pain way before they deliver a patient to the emergency room.

 

Mary Sheridan: We can breathe for that patient, and we can circulate his blood with chest compressions, and we can keep him warm and get him to the trauma center, when he can go into their operating room right away.

 

Kevin Stark: The entire trip, paramedics in the emergency room team at the hospital are communicating with each other, and monitoring a patient's vital signs. By doing this, Mary says:

 

Mary Sheridan: We're buying him 10 or 15 minutes, but with penetrating trauma to the chest, or any significant trauma where you're losing blood, you only have four to six minutes.

 

Kevin Stark: Four to six minutes. After that, in most cases, it's too late to save your life.

 

Darnell Little: Chicago's trauma centers learn how to act fast from combat medical teams. They visit St roger Hospital to share best practices and battlefield tests and techniques.

 

Dr. Ferran Beka: Yes, they do shifts alongside us.

 

Darnell Little: Dr. Ferran Bekari is in charge of trauma and burn surgery at St roger. He says his team and the military doctors learn from one another. The civilians handle more casualties in their ER than the combat veterans generally do in the field.

 

Dr. Ferran Beka: It's a lot of severe injury that we see. They don't see that cumulatively. They'll see it during six months. A lot of my physicians have been doing this for a decade, and exposure is much more continuous and extensive here.

 

Darnell Little: Continuous and extensive. Because, street fights can escalate quickly into shoot-outs. The St roger emergency room treats on average 1,100 gunshot patients a year. It costs a lot to keep them alive. The most recent statistics, from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, show the city spent $2.5 billion dollars a year on gunshot victims for medical care, lost wages, and reduced productivity. That's an average of $2,500.00 per household.

 

Without its trauma care system, one criminologist who spoke with [inaudible 00:10:21] Chicago, would still log close to 1,000 gun-related murders a year. Higher than the peak of 970 homicides in 1974.

 

Kevin Stark: Chicago Police wouldn't talk to us about what we found, but we did speak with Cooke County President, Toni [Preckwinkle 00:10:42]. Cooke is the county that includes Chicago. It controls St roger Hospital. I told Tony what our research had found.

 

Toni Preckwinkl: If we're getting a lot better at treating gunshot trauma, and people are surviving, and that's your point, then it's not really the murder rate, but the shootings that we ought to be looking at ... the number of shootings. I see your point. In a way, the world class nature of our trauma care masks, to some extent, the problem.

 

Kevin Stark: Do you see a solution there?

 

Toni Preckwinkl: We can't just look at the murders and the shootings. We have to look at the communities out of which these folks come, and see what we can do to address the challenges that the communities face. Otherwise, they will just continue to produce at-risk young people. You know, I think your well aware that the people who are at risk for being shot are the same people who are at risk for being shooters.

 

Kevin Stark: That could have been Lamar.

 

Lamar Kaples: When I got shot, I was like, "Oh, I'm ready to kill now," but I know better than that now. I calmed down. Realized I've got a lot to live for, and that's not for me. It's not for me at all, so I'm not going to let my situation turn me into a bad person.

 

Kevin Stark: Lamar gets by. Disability benefits, and money his former co-workers at the steel mill raised for him help. Health insurance covered some of the medical costs, but he's still got a lifetime of bills to pay. His family and fiance pitch in, too. When he thinks about his future, he says he'd like to work with other gunshot survivors.

 

Lamar Kaples: People that feel like there's no hope for them, even if they're in a chair for the rest of their life, I would still like to be there to laugh with them, and still encourage them in the things that they may think is too hard for them to do. Let them know my situation. Let them know how much God blessed me. That's all.

 

Kevin Stark: Lamar says sometimes he feels his legs again. He prays a lot, lifts weights at home, and three times a week, he goes to the gym.

 

Al Ledson: Kevin Stark and Darnell Little of The Data Reporting Lab in Chicago brought us that story. Here's the big questions that got them started: Would it matter at all if officials focused on how many people get shot, instead of how many died? Toni Preckwinkle, the Cooke County Commission President, told us that could change the way local government budgets its money.

 

Toni Preckwinkl: We need to be sure that those young people who have been shot the first time don't find themselves at risk, or put themselves at risk, to be shot again. That's a wholistic approach to their recovery, not just physically from the wound, but from all of the factors that led them to be a gunshot victim in the first place.

 

Al Ledson: Like 25 Chicagoans, during this year's Martin Luther King holiday weekend. When we come back, we'll meet another southsider who, despite this, and other problems, is determined to stay.

 

Speaker 14: Because we have to fight for what's right. We have to take back Chicago.

 

Al Ledson: That's next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Byer Duncan: Byer Duncan here, an engagement reporter at Reveal. If you want to dig deeper into Kevin and Darnell's analysis, head over to CityLab.com/Chicago. You'll find an immersive print story that compliments the piece you just heard. It goes into even more detail about how improvements in trauma care may be partially masking the true scale of Chicago gun violence.

 

If you don't know about City Lab, it's this awesome site dedicated to the people who are creating the cities of the future. They focus on design, transportation, equity, and life in urban environments. Again, to find our story, go to CityLab.com/Chicago. Thanks.

 

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Al Ledson: From the Center of Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I am Al Ledson. If you've ever visited Chicago, you probably know that it's famous for its public art. In Millennium Park, along Lake Michigan, tourists jockey for selfies in front of a massive stainless steel sculpture called Cloudgate. Then, there's the Picasso created by the master himself. This modern day sculpture stands 50 feet high and resembles the artist's cubist paintings.

 

In Federal Plaza, just a few blocks away, you'll come face to face with Alexander Caulder's Flamingo. At 53 feet tall, this bright orange red abstract sculpture is of massive steel, elegantly bending over on itself, like it's about to do a back handspring. Right nearby is a 100 year old building that was home to the Chicago Public Schools.

 

They've since sold the building, but in May 2013, hundreds of parents, teachers and students made their way there to protest a plan that would shut down 50 schools. It was right before the Memorial Day weekend. The sky was filled with dark clouds, with occasional rain fall. In the Hearing Room, people fidgeted in their seats, waiting to speak.

 

They'd approach the microphone wearing T-shirts with slogans like, "Every School is My School," "Stand with Chicago's Teachers Union," and "Save Our Schools." Each speaker had just two minutes, and they let the school board have it.

 

Speaker 14: I've been waiting three months for these two minutes. You're attacking our children, and breaking our communities. We need these schools. If there's one thing you have done right that I can actually say, is that you have made our community come together and fight this battle.

 

Speaker 17: I have a dream. I have a dream I'm going to go home and I'm going to tell my daughter that there is one hero on the board. One person that's going to stand up and go against this, and say, "I am going to keep Courtney Elementary alive as a choice and an option for all Chicago students." Thank you.

 

Speaker 18: Thank you, Ms. Tethorn. Our next speaker.

 

Al Ledson: There were so many hearings. At one of them, a woman named Irene Robinson, found the courage to speak up in favor of her neigh-

 

  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:18:04]
  Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 - 00:36:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Male Narrator: Named Irene Robinson found the courage to speak up in favor of her neighborhood school, Overton Elementary.

 

Irene Robinson: I'm kind of nervous, but I just wanna say we want to support Overton and do whatever we can to keep it open. I have six grand babies go to to Overton, but all of the babies are my babies.

 

Speaker 3: Thank you, Miss Robinson.

 

Male Narrator: Irene got more more comfortable with public speaking over the years, sparring with the city and the school board over the school closing plan. At the time, Chicago Schools' CEO was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and right before the school board voted on the plan, she defended it.

 

Barbara: I know that change is not easy to embrace, but I do not believe that we can deviate from what is right. We cannot maintain a system that cannot be sustained, and one which does not benefit children.

 

Male Narrator: The school board voted to close 50 schools, the largest public school shutdown in the country. The city promised not to close anymore schools for five years. Now time's up, and more schools could close. What will that mean for students and their families? The Chicago reporters Kalyn Belsha has been investigating that question by looking at how the last round of shutdowns has affected people in Chicago.

 

Kalyn Belsha: With six kids, and 18 grandkids, plus foster kids, Irene Robinson is the kind of person who takes care of everyone around her. Whenever I see her, she's wearing purple lipstick, glasses, t-shirts ... She tells me purple makes life bearable.

 

Irene Robinson: All my life, I took care of children, and my house was open-door to all the Anthony Overton children.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Overton was a school on Chicago's south side across the street from where Irene used to live, and the kids she sent there brought back a bunch of good news. Irene keeps the evidence in envelopes filled with photos and awards.

 

Irene Robinson: This is my baby girl report card from Anthony Overton.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Wow! 2005!

 

Irene Robinson: Yeah.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Because the school was such a big part of her life, Irene remembers clearly when the district started cutting teachers and programs.

 

Irene Robinson: It don't take a rocket scientist. Anyone can see that formula is to destroy it.

 

Kalyn Belsha: School officials called that formula, "student-based budgeting." It's exactly what it sounds like. If a school enrolls more kids, it gets more money. The district decided to shut down schools with fewer kids to create a bunch of bigger ones with bigger budgets.

 

Officials promised to invest in those schools. They called them welcoming schools, with extras like air conditioning and iPads. Nearly all the schools the district closed were in historically black neighborhoods, like Bronzeville.

 

Irene Robinson: Our people, our grandparents ... When they left down south, they came to Bronzeville and they built here. And our heart is here.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Irene tells me this as we ride along her old neighborhood's main drive, Martin Luther King Drive. There's a monument to the millions of African Americans who's migration changed Chicago and the nation, a giant, bronze statue of a man holding a worn suitcase, waving with his right hand.

 

The public housing complexes that used to tower over this area are all gone. So are the people who used to live in them. Irene says some of the families who stayed the longest moved away when the school district closed Overton. That school had anchored the families and teachers who lived nearby.

 

Irene Robinson: We need our neighborhood school. This is important. Neighborhood schools are the heart of our community.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Developers put up expensive new condos. Rents all over went up. Irene and others couldn't afford to stay. Now when she visits her old apartment, she says she feels like a stranger on her block.

 

She places a lot of blame for all this change on Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel. He controls public schools like few big city mayors do. He appoints the school's chief and the school board. He declined our many requests for an interview. In general, he doesn't like to talk about this, but at a press conference in 2013 after the school shutdown list came out, reporters grilled him. He acknowledged the plan would upset students and their parents.

 

Speaker 6: This is very difficult, a lot of anguish. And I understand that, and I appreciate it. But the anguish and the pain that comes from making the change pales compared to the anguish that comes by trapping children into schools that are not succeeding. Thank you very much.

 

Kalyn Belsha: The mayor said it would take time, but kids would eventually end up in better schools.

 

Speaker 6: The whole effort is about making sure that every child, regardless of where they live, regardless of their circumstances, has the opportunity to go to a quality school and receive a high-quality education.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Irene, along with many parents and students, didn't buy the mayor's promise. They let him know that loud and clear. Their protests got a lot of coverage from local outlets like WBBM news radio.

 

WBBM Reporter: On the west side, Mike news radio 780 at 105.9 FM. These people are portraying Mayor [inaudible 00:23:22] as a lying racist.

 

Protester 1: Does that New Chicago mean no more black folks?

 

Protestor 2: That's right.

 

Protester 1: Where are people gonna go? They're not gonna stay around in the community if there are no schools.

 

Kalyn Belsha: In the end, Overton and 49 other schools closed. About 11,000 students, most of them black and poor, had to transfer. They were supposed to go to higher-performing schools, but researchers at the University of Chicago found later that most kids didn't end up at schools that were much better than the ones they'd left.

 

Irene's 13-year-old grandson, [Eric 00:23:56], knows what that feels like. I caught up with him at a family party.

 

Irene Robinson: And this is Eric, my grandson.

 

Kalyn Belsha: He used to go to a school he loved, Wadsworth Elementary, on the south side.

 

Speaker 10: I've been at Wadsworth for a long, long time. And then, when it closed I thought I'd go to a school I could meet new people. That closed too. Like, we had music there. We don't ... I liked the new music. I really liked the music. But we don't have it now.

 

Kalyn Belsha: When Eric's parents heard Wadsworth was going to close, they planned to send him to Overton, where he'd been a student before his family moved. But both of those schools closed in 2013, and Eric had to transfer to a different school. He lost touch with his friends from Wadsworth and had to start over.

 

Speaker 10: You would think after they closed the first time, that would probably be it, but when it happens again, and again, and again, now you start getting a little frustrated how many times you gotta be transferred because the ... And it's stuff you don't even know. Like, I don't even know why the school closed.

 

Kalyn Belsha: In recent years, Chicago has invested a lot of money to keep middle and upper-class kids in the public schools with new or expanded buildings. But when most of the kids are low-income, black, and latino, the district closes their schools, fires the entire faculty and hires a new one, or sometimes it uses one building to house two separate schools.

 

Let me explain the thinking here. If enrollment is low in one school, why not put another school inside it and use the empty classrooms? That hasn't worked out so well. First, kids still have to share spaces like gyms and auditoriums. Second, the new schools often compete with the old ones for students. Remember, bigger enrollment means more money.

 

This whole idea that schools need to have more kids in them doesn't make sense to University of Chicago sociologist, Eve Ewing.

 

Eve Ewing: Some of our most elite academic institutions tout low enrollment as being a great thing.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Eve holds an education doctorate from Harvard. She taught in one of the schools that closed in 2013. She's writing a book about what happened.

 

Eve Ewing: It's fascinating because the idea that a school building should be efficient in how many kids it holds is really not an educationally sound or pedagogically sound way of making decisions. But when it comes to poor, black students, the idea is basically that we need to efficiently fit as many kids into a building as possible.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Some of Irene's grandkids felt that after Overton Elementary closed. Their mom, June, says their welcoming school was too crowded, and really hard to get to. June and her kids used to share an apartment with Irene. In the last year or so, they've shifted from seeing each other all the time to visiting like this.

 

Irene Robinson: Hey.

 

June: Hi, ma.

 

Irene Robinson: Hey, baby.

 

June: Hey, ma.

 

Kalyn Belsha: June is 29. She's the third of Irene's four daughters. Her job at a McDonald's in Chicago barely covered her expenses. Hoping for a place of her own, she spent years on a wait list for public housing, but never got in.

 

Irene Robinson: Have you did your Christmas shopping yet?

 

June: Yeah, I did a little bit of it.

 

Irene Robinson: Well, you know I'm trying to find a day to come down there. Even though I was with you for Thanksgiving, that wasn't enough cause your momma missed you. I missed ... You don't know how much I missed you.

 

June: Yeah, I missed you too.

 

Irene Robinson: I just hate that y'all so spreaded apart.

 

Kalyn Belsha: To improve life for her family, June decided to move out of the neighborhood more than 200 miles away to Cedar Rapids.

 

Had you ever been to Iowa before you moved out there?

 

June: No, never. You know? I was already [inaudible 00:27:57], and it's like ... I just had to take a chance, and I'm kinda happy I did.

 

Kalyn Belsha: A lot of black families have taken chances like June. Chicago's African American population has dropped by a quarter million since 2000. During that time, the city's public schools lost 90,000 black students.

 

In Iowa, June is thriving. She quickly found work at a Nordstrom warehouse where she makes 15 dollars an hour, a big boost from her fast food job, and her rent is a couple hundred dollars than what she paid for her tiny Chicago apartment. Now, she's in a two-bedroom rental with lots of room for her kids to play.

 

June: Oh, yeah. It's a townhouse, and my rent is 550. It's nice cause it looks like a mini house.

 

Kalyn Belsha: A bus picks up her kids right in front of the house. Inside, there's a couch and other items that parents and staff from the school gave to their family. June's kids are adjusting well in a new school district that mostly enrolls kids from white, well-off families. That isn't the case for many kids who leave Chicago's poor, segregated, black schools.

 

I analyzed records for 15,000 students who left Chicago for the suburbs, or other Illinois towns in recent years. I found that a third of them landed in poorly-funded, racially-segregated schools, pretty much like the ones they'd left, except that many staff in their new school districts felt overwhelmed by the health and emotional issues these kids carried with them.

 

Even though June says she and her kids are doing real good, they still feel the distance from the rest of their family.

 

June: I actually miss laying next to my momma, being [inaudible 00:29:44] my momma. I can't see her, and touch her, and stuff like that.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Irene misses her daughter just as much, but these days, she's putting a lot of her energy in one direction.

 

Irene Robinson: Once I lost Anthony Overton School, I vowed that I would fight for all children at all schools because I really didn't understand what they was doing when they was closing schools.

 

Kalyn Belsha: That helps explain her work to re-open a high school named after Walter Dyett, a legendary music teacher and band leader in Chicago. It's on the city's south side, not far from Irene's apartment. Before and after the district closed it, she and others organized as usual.

 

Irene Robinson: We went to board meetings, we went and we protested, and we talked to the mayor. I have spoken with Rahm Emanuel several times, telling him how this would hurt our children. We did everything.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Eventually, their protests ended up on the news too.

 

Speaker 13: Dyett High School hunger strikers are no into their 31st day without solid food, and the strain on their health is beginning to show. Hunger strikers say this whole issue is about race, unequal distribution of city resources, and a lack of respect from CPS and City Hall.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Police arrested Irene during her protests to save the school twice. Once, just before the hunger strike began, she blocked elevators at city hall. A year earlier, she chained herself to the bronze statue of George Washington outside the mayor's office. Speaking to crowds didn't phase her anymore, not after refusing solid food put her in the hospital for a little while.

 

Irene Robinson: Because we have to fight for what's right! We have to take back Chicago! And when Rahm Emanual close school, he hurt our children. Closing schools is a hate plan.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Irene and the hunger strikers did re-open that school. They called it a small victory in a big, long fight. Although her daughter June moved away, Irene has managed to keep other people she loves in the city, like her second daughter, [Shana 00:31:53] and her husband, Tyrell. Their son is Eric.

 

Tyrell: He's my little shadow, so he's always behind me wherever I go. You know, I feel lucky that at his age, I'm still his primary influence.

 

Kalyn Belsha: I talked with Tyrell in the kitchen of the bungalow they bought on the far south side. He's 31 with a college degree and a corporate job in Chicago's west suburbs. His commute puts him on the road nearly two and a half hours every weekday. Tyrell had wanted to move his family closer to work, but his mother-in-law wasn't having it.

 

Tyrell: We had this discussion a thousand times before where she wanna fight. When it was time for me to buy my house, I wasn't looking here. I was looking to leave. And I feel like a lot of black men do that because that just seems like what we're supposed to do, but then Irene just showed me a different way like, "You need to stay here and show that you can be successful here."

 

Irene Robinson: [inaudible 00:32:41].

 

Tyrell: You can't abandon everybody. You can't just provide for your family, and elevate your family, and forget about everybody else, and your heritage, and where you come from.

 

Irene Robinson: Our ancestors came to the south side. They built here, but now our children don't even know half of the history that our grandparents had left, and that's sad.

 

Kalyn Belsha: The fight to save the schools and her neighborhood wears Irene down. Sometimes she feels older than 53. Her job as a home healthcare aid required a lot of bending and lifting. Now, Irene battles arthritis in her knees. That pain and feelings of depression can keep her in bed some days. Shana says that's the price Irene pays for what the grandkids admire and recall her fightful side.

 

Do you ever worry that your mom's gonna get really tired? I mean, I know she puts a lot of work into it. And so, I wonder ... How do you -

 

Shana: No, I don't think she's getting tired. This motivates her. This gives her strength. This makes her wanna fight even more. If anything, I worry that she's gonna explode.

 

Irene Robinson: My kids had begged me to take a break.

 

Kalyn Belsha: In her own apartment, away from Shana and Tyrell's kitchen, Irene says she knows why.

 

Irene Robinson: They afraid that when I go to jail, or being on a hunger strike, but I have to really talk to them and make them understand that this is something I have to do. What do you do when you are very clear on what's going on? What do you do? You can't close your eyes and walk away.

 

Kalyn Belsha: If she and other activists had done that, the city might have gone forward with a plan to close four majority black high schools on the south side to make way for a new, consolidated one. That plan would've made the students who were in those schools now transfer to other struggling high schools across town, and across gang boundaries.

 

When I spoke with her last fall, the current schools chief, Janice Jackson, told me district officials wanted to treat this situation differently than the closings in 2013.

 

Janice Jackson: Dear CPS Community,

 

As your CEO, I have promised that your school district will listen -

 

Kalyn Belsha: Earlier this month on Twitter, she shared an announcement that suggested they meant it, even though some people saw it as a way for the mayor to win political support from African Americans.

 

Janice Jackson: The more we talked to you, the more we heard how important it was for some students to stay and graduate from their current school. In response to your feedback, we are modifying our proposal.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Instead of shutting down the four high schools all at once, the district will give students in three of the schools the option to finish where they are or transfer to another school.

 

Janice Jackson: I want you to know that we have heard your concerns, and we are happy to modify this proposal to ensure it supports all students.

 

Kalyn Belsha: Still, none of them will be able to attend the new high school when it opens next year, because it will start by enrolling only ninth graders. This plan doesn't do a thing for Irene. She figures the four high schools are still going to close and hurt the surrounding neighborhoods.

 

  Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 - 00:36:04]
  Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 - 00:51:46]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Kalyn Belsha: ... schools are still going to close and hurt the surrounding neighborhoods. The only difference, she believes, is that the school district's letting it happen gradually, like a slow death. "If officials were really listening," she says, "they would invest in and maintain the existing schools." So Irene will protest what she calls a bad policy, just as if her own family's school was on the line.

 

Al Letson: That was Kalyn Belsha of the Chicago Reporter. By the way, we should mention that the former CEO, Barbara Byrd–Bennett, who we heard from at the top of the story is now in prison. Last year, a judge sentenced Byrd–Bennett to four and half years for planning to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes by steering contracts to a former employer, an education consulting company.

 

When we come back, we'll meet the South Side's Lois Lane, reporter Natalie Moore will talk to us about her Chicago and the city's most chronic problem.

 

Natalie Moore: Until Chicago addresses segregation, we're going to continue to be a city of inequities.

 

Al Letson: That's next on Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

You got to be tough to stay and fight when your neighbors, even your loved ones, want to move away. Journalist Natalie Moore knows about that. She's the author of three non-fiction books and a reporter for public radio station WBEZ in Chicago. Natalie's a third-generation Chicagoan. All four of her grandparents were part of the African-American migration from the South, an escape from terror and stifled opportunities.

 

Natalie Moore: On my father's side, my grandfather was from Nashville. He had two brothers who had to get out of town. One was accused of raping a white woman, and another one got into a fight with some white men, and they had to be whisked away because they could have been lynched. He just said, "I'm done," and came here. My grandparents were able to buy a home, buy rental properties, they were able to send their children to college first-generation.

 

Al Letson: In her book, South Side, Natalie writes about how segregation shaped the way she looks at the world. When she was 14, she hopped on a train downtown for a concert on the South Side. She noticed something she's never seen. All the white people were usually off the train by then. It shook her up that they stayed on. Finally, when the train reached the White Sox stadium, they flooded out and she could relax again.

 

Natalie never forgot that train ride or the fight or flight instinct it triggered. She lived at the time in Chatham, a South Side neighborhood she calls ...

 

Natalie Moore: This kind of a cozy, racial cocoon. My parents instilled a lot of cultural pride in me and my siblings, and we supported black-owned businesses in the neighborhood. There were black clubs, there was civic life. I did know that they weren't some of the same amenities in my neighborhood as there were in other parts of the city, but it was a great place to grow up. I had friends there, I was in Girl Scouts there, I went to church there. It was a great neighborhood.

 

Al Letson: I've been reading The South Side, which I love. For our listeners who haven't read the book, tell me about how Chatham became a hub of the black middle class.

 

Natalie Moore: Chatham is a black South Side middle class neighborhood that I grew up in, and Chatham was one of the neighborhoods that experienced white flight. In 1940, it was all white, and then when restrictive covenants were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1948, you saw black people start to move in. From 1950 to 1960, you go from 99% white to 99% black, and Chatham became one of many, many neighborhoods on the south and west sides that opened up to African-Americans.

 

Al Letson: Can I tell you that your love for Chatham just jumps out of the book. Every time you talk about it, I feel like you're giving me a warm hug.

 

Natalie Moore: Oh, that makes me smile. Good, that was what I was intending to do.

 

Al Letson: Can you connect the dots to how things like segregation have led to these issues that we're seeing now? Or are they connected at all?

 

Natalie Moore: What makes Chicago unique is that it's diverse yet segregated. In Chicago, the city is about a third black, a third white, and a third Latino, but we typically don't live, work, or play together. This wasn't by accident and people need to understand that these policies have been set and these patters have been set for decades. My argument is that until Chicago addresses segregation, we're going to continue to be a city of inequities.

 

Let's take schools, for example. There was never any real effort to integrate Chicago public schools. This could have happened in the 1960s when you still had a significant white population. You had white families who resisted, but more importantly to note is that the mayor, Richard J. Daly, resisted. You start to see the white student population in the public school system decline. Some people will say, "Well, how can schools be integrated if housing is segregated?" That's an excuse. The biggest problem is that we don't acknowledge or address segregation.

 

Al Letson: Policies that were put in place by the the City of Chicago to limit African-Americans, to segregate them, exactly what happened there that plays out today?

 

Natalie Moore: This was bigger than segregation. It was also about trying to stymie black wealth. We don't even want you in your own communities to be able to own homes. It goes beyond the city of Chicago. You had racially restrictive covenants which were deeds to home that said you cannot sell or rent your property to someone black. Then you had red lining that came about in the 1930s that literally drew a line around black neighborhoods and said these are higher risk places, don't give loans there. Red lining went away, but those forces shaped our neighborhoods and it shaped what happened.

 

Al Letson: A lot of times, you hear from the national media stories about Chicago. In this hour, we've talked about violence in Chicago, we've talked about school closings. Now it seems that African-Americans are leaving Chicago sort of en masse. Why is that? Who are the people that are leaving?

 

Natalie Moore: I think when we talk about population laws, it comes across as if people just in the past few weeks have been packing up their bags and leaving. We've seen this trend for decades. There's been some research around who is leaving. You have low income people who are leaving, I think you also have middle class people who are leaving because the suburban dream is something that African-Americans buy into also. They maybe want the school system out there, they want a bigger house, they want a different style of living. I think it's difficult to paint who is this one person, but affordability is an issue for people, jobs is an issue for people, and I think it's a complicated mix of why people leave. Sometimes you look at black neighborhoods through the lens of deficits and not through assets.

 

Al Letson: In the book, you talk about how home ownership has been the way that we've been told that you create wealth in this country. But for black people, that's not the case. Can you explain why that is?

 

Natalie Moore: There is research that shows that if your neighborhod is 10% black or more, that's when values start to go down. Now, I want to be clear, this is not about these black families moved in and the neighborhoods declined. No, this is about how things are valued, and there was an undervaluation in black neighborhoods.

 

Al Letson: You were 20 years old and away at college, and your parents moved away from Chatham.

 

Natalie Moore: Yes.

 

Al Letson: Why did they move?

 

Natalie Moore: They wanted more house and they wanted more value for their house. They moved to an integrated neighborhod on the South Side — integrated meaning black and white, but mostly white. The way the system is set up is that if you were black and you buy in a black neighborhod, the cards are stacked against you.

 

One thing that I will say is that the blackness that people have in their imagination in this country I think tends to be the poor black person and then the exceptional black person. You're Obamas, you're Oprahs ...

 

Al Letson: Natalie Moores.

 

Natalie Moore: No, not me, I'm not rich. You're celebrity of that stature. Then there's the image of the poor, the ghetto, the despondent. I think there's a real invisibility of the middle class and working class black people in this country.

 

Al Letson: I can hear the love of Chicago. Why do you love Chicago?

 

Natalie Moore: There's an expression here, "Chicago over everything." Despite all of its problems, this is a city with grit, it's a city with innovation, there's a lot that's inspiring. The cultural workers who are here, the black [inaudible 00:46:01] people who are trying to make their neighborhod a little bit better, that's part of our fabric. In some way that's a little tribal, and I say that in a positive way. The ties that people have go long and deep. There's a beauty in every corner of the city.

 

Al Letson: There is nothing like summertime shine.

 

Natalie Moore: Nothing like it.

 

Al Letson: I lived in Chicago for six months. I was standing on the Bryn Mawr L and I watched the wind come off of the lake and reach up and grab me and say, "Florida boy, go home." I was like, "Yes sir, bye."

 

Natalie Moore: Well, that's the grit. That builds character. That's the Chicago character.

 

Al Letson: Natalie Moore, author, South Side and reporter for WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much for joining me.

 

Natalie Moore: Thanks so much for having me.

 

Al Letson: We started this hour with a reference to President Trump calling Chicago a total disaster. As you've heard throughout the hour, the city has issues, just like every city in America, in the world, but for some, Chicago has become a talking point, a place to point out the failures of democratic governance. The city is used in the gun debate because it has stricter gun laws than many parts of the country. Or if a racial incident happens anywhere in America, commentators, politicians, and Twitter bots will point to the city and ask, "What about Chicago? Black on black crime, what about those black kids? No one cares." That couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, guns are in Chicago despite laws because they flow in from areas outside the city that don't have strict gun laws. And no, black on black crime is not an actual thing, unless we begin to categorize white on white crime.

 

Statistics tell us that crime happens among people who live closest to one another, and Chicago is an extremely segregated city. But how did we get here? A while back, Bomani Jones, a sports commentator, gave one of the clearest breakdowns of the problem that I've heard.

 

Bomani Jones: Then Chicago, when black people moved to that city from the South from the 1940 to 1950s, white people got the hell out of Dodge. They built a freeway system that ran through black neighborhoods and the whole purpose of that freeway system was to get white people from the suburbs into their job safely without having to make any stops in between. That's what housing discrimination does. Housing discrimination is the biggest reason that we could point to historically for why we got all these dead kids in Chicago fighting for turf, fighting for real estate, with poor accommodations and facilities and everything that you're supposed to have with a city. Poor education, all of this, because the tax dollars and everything else decided to move away. When you can’t do that, you wind up in basically where these neighborhoods that are created by apartheid.

 

Al Letson: He's right, and yet, in spite of all the problems, Chicago still stands. If you've never been there, it may be hard to hold on to these two ideas. A faltering city versus the city that works. Maybe it's more appropriate to say the city that puts in work. You see, every day, Chicagoans are rolling up their sleeves. In every neighborhod on every block, you'll find people like the ones we met in today's show. Irene Robinson, the grandma who's taking on City Hall to keep schools open; Mary Sheridan, the city's chief paramedic who's giving victims of crime a fighting chance; Eve [inaudible 00:49:35], the noted sociologist and former teacher who's demanding better futures for the city's young people, like all of us should whether we live in Chicago or not.

 

We mentioned housing discrimination throughout the show. Many people think that's an issue we solved 50 years ago with the Fair Housing Act, but we found that lenders are still turning down people of color at greater rates than white people in cities around the country. We reported on that last week. If you missed it, you can still listen to that show on our podcast. Just go to iTunes, RadioPublic, or anywhere you listen to podcasts, and subscribe to Reveal.

 

Today's show was produced by Bill Haley and [inaudible 00:50:33] Diaz Cortez. Shelley Duvall edited our show. Thanks to the Data Reporting Lab, to the Chicago Reporter, and to public TV station WTTW, public radio station WBEZ, WBBM news radio, and to the Chicago Sun Times for archival sound. Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo, J Breezy and Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man, yo, [aruda 00:50:59]. Amy Pyle is our editor-in-chief, and Christa Scharfenberg is our acting CEO. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camerado, Lightning.

 

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

 

Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.

 

  Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 - 00:51:46]