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Chicago's Gang Violence Limits Kids Mobility


Police in Chicago are calling in reinforcements - additional state troopers have come to the city. Authorities are on alert as the Labor Day holiday approaches. The last holiday weekend was July Fourth and during that weekend, a series of shooting incidents left 14 people killed and 80 wounded.


Let's get a picture now of one Chicago neighborhood as it looks from the perspective of one of its residents. The resident is Steve Gates, Chicago director for Youth Advocate Programs, which has worked with children and teens in Chicago public schools. His neighborhood is Roseland, where police are trying to hold down rampant crime.

STEVE GATES: It's almost like martial law. We have cops on every other corner trying to deter some crime. But for these kids, it's like living life in a box because of gang boundaries and because one gang may have rivals on the next block or a few blocks over. That kind of limits the kids' mobility, which oftentimes reduces their ability to see anything else. So if you can think about those imaginary borders cutting you off from the rest of the world or the city, imagine being a kid there. You know, there's no baseball programs, no YMCAs, they're closing schools. I feel bad for the children right now.

INSKEEP: You - for several years now - have had an opportunity to work directly with kids and it's now been about five years. How have those kids been doing?

GATES: For the most part, they've been successful. During our tenure there - about 85 percent of our seniors graduated. But, that was with support; that was while the resources were in place.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I had a 24-year-old, DeAndre - De De - he was killed. You know? And I've had other kids killed. But I've also had a lot of kids saved, I've sent a bunch of kids to college. And sometimes the successes can't be measured in graduation or college, but - this kid is safe, he's alive. Just exposing these kids to an alternative to life sometimes is a success.

INSKEEP: How helpful is the police presence in your neighborhood?

GATES: They're helpful in the capacity that I think they deter crime from where they're posted at. I'm kind of torn with this because a lot of times, my civil rights are infringed upon. You know - get out of the car, license and insurance. No, we're not - we're just stopping everybody.

And I'll say, well, hey - that's profiling.

No, it's not profiling; you are all the same.

But then, there's a flipside to that because if the police presence is keeping the murders down, then I'm willing to kind of sacrifice some of those civil liberties, just to keep some of those kids and things safe.

INSKEEP: You said you are willing to sacrifice some civil liberties. You're that worried?

GATES: Yeah, that's what happens. I've talked to law students at Loyola and a lot of people can't believe that - well, you're actually pulled out of the car and searched without probable cause?

Yes, it happens here. And I kind of equate this with wartime you know? When you're at war, the rules of engagement are different. And for the impoverished communities, the rules of engagement are in place now, you know, as opposed to North Shore where the mayor lives, you know, those sorts of things probably don't happen as much. But, they're real. And it happens very frequently here in my community.

INSKEEP: Would you encourage young people to stay in the neighborhood, as you have, or get out?

GATES: That would solely be an independent decision. I still have a lot of family here. I'm still committed to my community. It's not a bad place. We have bad things that happen here, but some of the people that I love the most still live here and there are great people here. And they raised me. And I think, a lot of times when people are successful that they equate being successful with living at a different address. But I also think that leaves a gap that doesn't give these young men and women the proper example that they need, you know. Maybe you can't be Barack Obama or maybe you won't be an astronaut, but you can go to college and you can help some kids. You can do what I do.

INSKEEP: Well, Steve Gates, thanks for taking the time.

GATES: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Steve Gates is with Youth Advocate Programs in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.