The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Getting at the Root Causes of Teen Violence

May 1, 2023

Two teenagers were shot near Millennium Park in downtown Chicago around 9 p.m. on a recent Saturday night. There were hundreds of young people in the area at the time and some of them became unruly. Videos posted on social media showed some of them kicking passing cars and dancing on top of parked cars. Some broke into vehicles and set them on fire. Others were seen climbing and jumping on the roof of a city bus. Police arrested fifteen people that night.

The previous night, a 14-year-old was shot south of downtown at the 31st Street Beach. Fortunately, all three of the teenagers shot survived.

Outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot was quick to condemn the behavior of the young people, promising that "the city cannot and will not allow any of our public spaces to become a platform for criminal conduct."

She praised the "historic investments in city youth programming and supporting community-based organizations to create year-round safe spaces" the city has made. She suggested parents and guardians need to know where their children are and instill values of respect for people and property.

In the meantime, business owners, other city politicians, the news media and police spokespeople have spoken out about the negative impact of the teens’ behavior on customers and tourists coming to the area. The Chicago Police Department promises to increase its police presence, enforce a curfew already enacted a year ago, monitor police cameras and check bags at beach entry points.

In short, their answers amount to attempts to discourage young people from poorer parts of the city from coming to the more affluent downtown area.

The new Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson also called the actions of the teens "unacceptable," but was a bit more careful in adding it was wrong to "demonize youth." During his campaign, Johnson pointed to the need to get to the root causes of problems with public safety.

Johnson is certainly right in both cases. Simply increasing the police presence will not get at the root causes of the problem. History, however, does not suggest politicians are very likely to really even identify the root causes of problems like these—let alone solve them. The events of that weekend were not even peculiar to the city of Chicago. That same weekend, six shootings took place near Greektown, a popular area of downtown Detroit.

The root causes of events like these lie with the capitalist system, the inequality inherent in it, the acceleration of ongoing economic crisis, and the problems associated with the Covid pandemic. Politicians like Lightfoot are quick to blame parents, but many of them are working overtime and can’t always be there to watch over the young people.

Often there’s not much for young people to do in the poorer neighborhoods where they live, and some can rightfully resent the tourists they see coming into the downtown areas. For those who want to go downtown, transportation can be a problem, particularly later in the evening for those who want to leave.

Stopping events like these means providing young people with hope for a better future, providing education, decent jobs, and access to culture. Capitalist society provides none of these and has to go.