The Story That Exposes Everything That's Wrong with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Last month, a 22-year-old Chicago rapper named Capo was shot in the back and the hip. While fleeing, the shooter drove up on a curb and hit a baby stroller with a 13-month-old baby in it. Both Capo and the child died.
The shooting took place in Chicago’s South Side. The baby, whose name was Dillan Harris, was taken to the nearby University of Chicago trauma center, but because it only admits patients under the age of 15, Capo (whose real name was Marvin Carr) was driven 11 miles away to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the North Side Streeterville neighborhood. It took almost a half hour to transport Capo to Northwestern. He died in the ambulance.
Despite its infamous levels of violence, the South Side’s last trauma center closed in 1990. This fact is even more glaring when one considers the murder discrepancy between Chicago’s two sides. The North Side has experienced a 20-year murder drop, while killings in the South have skyrocketed. An analysis by NBC showed that between 2007 and 2012, the murder rate in the most brutal of Chicago’s communities was as much as 80 times higher than in Chicago’s North Side. The title of a recent Nation investigation, by Hyde Park Herald reporter Jeffrey Bishku-Aykul, summarizes the issue directly: “Why Put Trauma Centers Where No One Gets Shot?”
Despite its diversity, Chicago remains the most segregated city in the United States. A Chicago Reader cover story from early this year lays out the disturbing facts: Chicago has 20 hypersegregated community areas on the south and west sides. These areas are at least 90% black and they’re wracked by crime, poverty, struggling schools, and a lack of jobs. Chicago also has 27 neighborhoods with fewer than 5 percent black residents that are not afflicted with the aforementioned problems. These neighborhoods don’t lack trauma centers.
Capo’s death is not an aberration, as residents die every year during their drives to the North Side. A 2013 study, published in the American Journal of Public Health makes clear how important it is to have a local trauma center close to areas where gun violence is prevalent; gunshot victims die more often from their wounds if they have to be driven over five miles away from the crime.
Residents of Chicago have been protesting and pushing for a trauma center on the South Side for quite some time, but the struggle has blossomed into a much deeper movement in recent years. One of the organizations on the forefront is Fearless Leading by Youth (FLY), which was co-founded by Damian Turner, an 18-year-old aspiring rapper who fought to improve conditions at a local juvenile-detention facility. Turner was shot in the back on the South Side and died an hour later in a downtown hospital. His death helped galvanize the movement.
Many of the protests have been aimed at the University of Chicago, not only because its trauma center only services young people, but because the school will be the spot for Barack Obama’s presidential library, a project that is slated to cost about $500 million. The library plan has been condemned by activists, who staged a number of “die-ins” to protest its construction. Last year protesters marched to the house of University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer chanting, “How can you ignore while we’re dying at your door?” and “No trauma, No-bama!” Chicago resident and FLY organizer Veronica Morris-Moore summed up the mood when she told ABC Chicago, "Why would you want to give the first black president's presidential library to an institution that has not at all shown any concern, care or priority for your life?”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the Obama library a staple of his reelection campaign earlier this year, as his challenger Chuy Garcia had opposed bringing the library to the South Side in the past. Garcia eventually flipped his position on the issue, but Emanuel insisted that a win for him would assure that the library would end up in Chicago. He won and it did. The area around the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park Obama library spot maintains one of the highest shooting rates in the city.
“I think that tying the South Side trauma center into the discussion of the Obama library really started out of a sense of frustration with the University of Chicago's priorities,” Emilio Comay del Junco, a University of Chicago student and trauma center activist told me. “[There’s] been an opportunity really to look at where municipal priorities are, why the mayor is willing to move heaven and earth to bring a presidential library to Washington Park, fine, but not to do the same, or even anything really, to bring a trauma center to the South Side."
In June of this year, nine protesters were arrested after barricading themselves in a University of Chicago office building to draw attention to the crisis. At the beginning of August, eight of the protesters were permanently banned from the institution.
Capo’s death has brought further attention to the issue. Capo maintained a certain level of celebrity as a result of being part of Chief Keef’s Glo Gang. (Keef is a popular drill-rapper who became a worldwide sensation in 2011.) Shortly after Capo was killed, Fredo Santana, a well-known South Side rapper and Chief Keef’s cousin, tweeted the following:
Santana’s instruction led dozens of rap fans to tweet to Emanuel, asking him to explain why people were still dying during long ambulance rides. This sentiment was echoed by Glo Gang rapper Tadoe, who also said Capo’s death was connected to the policies of the city. “It’s fucked up in Chicago. Ain’t no trauma unit on the South Side,” he said in a video interview. “If it was a trauma unit on the South Side a motherfucker would’ve been decent. They took the trauma unit… motherfuckers dying. You get hit up you gotta go all way on the West Side...All the shooting out South. Out West, they hustle. They got the trauma unit out there. Motherfuckers ain’t getting killed like that out West.”
Whether Chief Keef and other local rappers bear some responsibility for the South Side’s violence is an issue that has been passionately debated since Keef first became a star. Many say yes, pointing to his rap sheet and violent lyrics, while others disagree, asserting that Chicago rappers are just describing the horrible things they see everyday. It’s a debate people have been engaging in since rap music gained mainstream attention. Articles with titles like, “Chicago’s ‘Drill Rap’ Movement: Expression of Struggle or a Glorifying of Violence?” are shared on a regular basis.
However, in Chicago these issues become much thornier. Some supporters of Chicago’s rap scene are perceived as part of the problem. In 2014 Vice's Noisey website produced a documentary series called Welcome to Chiraq, which focused on the city’s gang violence and the lives of its most popular rappers and producers. Several Chicago rappers were uncomfortable with the portrayal. A source with direct knowledge of the issue told me that the series’ focus on violence upset those who insist Chicago rap’s story is much more complex. Recently members of the Atlanta rap group Migos claimed that a similar Noisey documentary provided them with a script, filmed them in a house they didn’t live in, and had them pose with guns. One of the group’s members, Offset, blames a recent gun arrest on the documentary and claims he was “tricked” by the website.
Chief Keef was embroiled in a similar situation a couple years ago. Pitchfork Media, the popular Chicago-based daily music website, brought Keef to a gun range in 2012 to shoot a freestyle segment for the site. After Chicago rapper Lil Jojo was murdered, in an event some believe was connected to Keef’s crew, Pitchfork took the video off its website, removed it from the archives, and released a statement saying, “The horror of the gun violence that has plagued our hometown is something we all take very seriously. Many people have pointed out that this episode could be seen as trivializing gun violence, and we feel they have a good point.”
Neither Pitchfork’s video, or the retraction of it, did anything positive for Keef. On the contrary, the state’s attorney’s office saw a clip of the segment and quickly realized that with a firearm in his hands, the rapper was in violation of an existing 18-month probation. Pitchfork was ordered to hand over the full video and Keef was sentenced to 60 days in a juvenile detention facility.
While Chief Keef remains a tremendously polarizing figure, certain aspects of his life get more press than others. While his run-ins with the law attract attention, there’s been little discussion about his current trajectory: he bought a big house with his rap money and has seemingly been focused on producing music for his fans at a remarkable pace and playing paintball. Keef did generate headlines recently when he tried to play holographic benefit shows for Dillan Harris, the toddler who was killed after Capo’s shooting. The rapper drew criticism from those who believe such actions are worthless and hypocritical. A popular local priest, Father Michael Pfleger, took to Facebook and posted the following:
Keef had originally scheduled the benefit in Chicago, but it was shut down at request of Mayor Emanuel. The show was moved to Hammond, Indiana where it was stopped after one song for unspecified security concerns. Before the song, a hologram of Keef told the assembled crowd, “Stop the violence. Stop the killing. Stop the nonsense. Let the kids grow up.”
“I know nothing about Chief Keef,” Hammond mayor Thomas McDermott admitted. “All I’d heard was he has a lot of songs about gangs and shooting people — a history that’s anti-cop, pro-gang and pro-drug use. He’s been basically outlawed in Chicago, and we’re not going to let you circumvent Mayor Emanuel by going next door.”
Alki David, founder of Hologram USA and creator of the Chief Keef hologram, told Noisey how the cops shut down the show: “They literally attacked us. Twenty police cars came. They bulldozed on stage, and grabbed stuff.”
David also insisted that Emanuel’s position on Keef highlights the mayor’s hypocrisy on the issue. “If someone is psychotic enough to start shooting firearms at an electronic device, a hologram, then you have real social problems in your area which have nothing to do with a Chief Keef show,” David said. “Keef did not create the violence in Chicago. He may have written three gangbanger-orientated songs, but that’s the extent of it. They are just using him as an excuse.”
David was even more direct when he spoke with Rolling Stone. “Shame on the mayor and police chief of Hammond for shutting down a voice that can create positive change in a community in desperate need. And for taking away money that could have gone to help the victims' families," he said. “This was a legal event and there was no justification to shut it down besides your glaring disregard for the First Amendment right to free speech. You've clearly been bullied by the proud Mayor of the Murder Capitol of the U.S., Rahm Emanuel. Mark my words, if you censor us you only make us stronger. Plus we'll be back to sue your asses.”
David’s words aren’t entirely hyperbolic. In a Rolling Stone piece, titled, “Are Cops Treating Chief Keef Like a Terrorist?" journalist John Knefel draws a parallel between the way authorities are reacting to Keef and how they respond to alleged terrorists. Knefel writes, “The rhetoric used by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hammond mayor Thomas McDermott to describe Chief Keef is surprisingly similar to the ways that federal law enforcement officials have described various ISIS propaganda efforts on social media, as well as the Islamic cleric and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.”
The connection made by Knefel is even more disturbing when one considers that prosecutors are using rap lyrics in trials at an increasing rate. Knefel cites a recent ACLU study that found 18 cases where the prosecution introduced rap lyrics as evidence against a defendant. Sometimes the lyrics have no connection to the alleged crime at all. California rapper Tiny Doo nearly went to jail for life for a crime he had no connection to because prosecutors claimed his lyrics encouraged gang activity. (The charges were dropped.)
Ethan Brown, investigative journalist and author of the book, Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip Hop Hustler, told me that many Chicago rappers are effectively being shut out of their hometown.
“There's no sense that anyone wants to engage these guys; elites just want to shut them down and shut them up,” Brown said. “It's a particularly odd stance to take given how influential they are in Chicago. And it becomes indefensible when someone like Keef comes forward, as he did recently, and says that he wants to do something about violence in Chicago and is summarily shut down. The treatment of Chicago hip-hop artists reminds me of the argument we hear all the time — that the black community only protests police violence. When the reality is that not only does the black community protest non-police violence, they are often shut down and/or marginalized when they do so.”
To many, Emanuel’s extreme response to Keef’s benefit showcases his questionable relationship with Chicago’s black community. It certainly doesn’t end with the trauma center issue. While supporters tout the mayor's economic achievements (his positive impact on Chicago’s startup culture, his job training programs, his raising of the minimum wage), the economy is certainly not growing for everyone in the city. A WBEZ analysis showed more than six times the number of black teachers than white teachers have seen their jobs disappear from district, non-charter classrooms. Emanuel has also closed a number of public schools and mental health clinics, raised subway fares and pushed a mandatory minimum gun bill that is expected to increase the city’s prison population by almost 4,000 within the next 10 years. Earlier this year it was reported that Chicago police had been running a "black site" in the city, where suspects were interrogated for hours without access to a lawyer. Many believe rappers are simply drawing attention to the natural outcome of such policies and the reality that there are two Chicagos.
A couple of years ago the Fader asked a number of musicians what they were thankful for on Thanksgiving. “I ain’t gonna lie, for the last three years Thanksgiving has been hard,” Fredo Santana told the magazine, “I ain’t really been around my family. The last two years I think I ate White Castle. I didn’t even have a plate. This year I’m trying to eat good. I’m thankful for Chief Keef — for him opening up a door for me to be able to do my thing. Opening up my record label...I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for God and my family and just to be living. In Chicago a lot of people don’t make it to be 23.”