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City Club debates ‘Chiraq’

Tue, Jul 28, 2015

If Chicago’s story is a tale of two cities, does a movie named “Chiraq” mean jobs in the present but future development lost to a bad public image?
That’s the question the City Club of Chicago asked of a July 9 panel that included Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Auburn-Gresham; Ald. William Burns (4th ward); Dr. Carl Bell, clinical professor of psychiatry and public health director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois-Chicago; and John Fountain, Chicago Sun-Times columnist and Roosevelt University professor.
Pfleger acted as a consultant for director Spike Lee, who just that day finished filming a movie on the South Side that will have the word “Chiraq” in its title; the word combines “Chicago” and “Iraq” and draws a parallel between weekly body counts in the Iraq War and gang warfare here. The reality is that 205 people have been killed and 1,171 shot in Chicago since January 1, he said.

Burns, meanwhile, called for a Chicago City Council vote in May that would urge the State of Illinois to deny a $3 million tax break to Lee’s company, Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks.
Pfleger lambasted Burns for his comment in that day’s Sun-Times, that Lee was “ ‘passing out hot dogs and temporary jobs.’”
Pfleger said the comment “trivializes a man like Spike Lee, his life, his body of work (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, 4 Little Girls, Jungle Fever, Crooklyn) and the millions of dollars brought into this city for the last six weeks. He’s willing to take on an issue no one has had the courage to take on: black on black crime.”
Pfleger said later that state budget cuts have meant only 300 jobs for youth in his ward this summer, compared to 1100 last year. He continually meets kids who want jobs to help with the light bill or keep their family from homelessness.
Burns countered that he wants “long-term solutions: economic development that lifts people from poverty.”
Burns said that bankers and equity investors, leery of South Side development, demand “layer upon layer of financing” and endless meetings with City and state agencies that wouldn’t be required on the North Side. Simultaneously, there’s a billion dollars of unmet retail demand in his ward.
Race is the reason for the redlining, Burns said. Homeowners and church members who are “involved in trying to create a community out of chaos” thank him for standing up to the name, he said.
“We need to do what we can as a city and as civic leaders to give them the tools to make their city better and the name ‘Chiraq’ does not help us.”
Bell called himself “the guy taking care of people after the shootings.”
Bell said neighborhoods where the only thriving businesses are liquor stores lead to fetal alcohol syndrome because mothers drink before they know they are pregnant. Four out of 10 of his patients had hair-trigger tempers and were unemployed or didn’t finish school because of this mood disorder. Yet there are easy solutions, from consuming more choline as in eggs and beef liver to Head Start and other programs that add to the social fabric: neighbors watching out for each other’s kids.
“In Chiraq moods fly, children die, mothers cry,” Fountain said. “We’re more worried about bad PR than about sending our sons and daughter to the ER. Chiraq exists beyond the Magnificent Mile, beyond the North Shore and the Gold Coast, beyond peaceful neighborhood meadows. Two worlds, a tale of two cities: one ugly, one pretty.”
Fountain agreed with Bell about the need to rebuild families and to create more social fabric. He and Pfleger also embraced living wage jobs.
Burns called also for regional solutions, from jobs closer than a three-hour public transit ride to affordable housing built in areas that do not have it now “so that in the next phase of CHA housing we break up the ghettos.”

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