We’ve had a few articles in the Defender about Blacks leaving the city for affordable housing or just a better life in the ’burbs. But an interesting piece came out in the Chicago Tribune last week reporting that “the greater Chicago area, which for the census includes parts of Indiana and Wisconsin, has lost nearly 46,000 Black residents since 2010. That exodus is larger than in any other metropolitan area in the country.” To me, there is something going on more than just economics. So I decided to dig a little deeper and have frank conversations just among us. That’s when a colleague introduced me to Waymond H. Smith. Smith, 64, has lived in Chicago on the South Side all his life and is bolting to Mexico. He speaks a little Spanish but is learning, and, he says, they work with you if you make the effort. So why move now?
“Because, I’m tired of Black people being killed — innocent men, women, and children — by the police. They’re always trying to acquit them or find them not guilty on a continual basis,” said Smith. “You know, they don’t do that for other races, even though they commit crimes. I don’t think it’s safe for a Black man to live in America.”
Smith, an avid biker who goes to biker conferences all over the world, is heavily involved in the Chicago biking community but even feels the racial inequality while taking a ride.
“In areas that happen to be poorer, the issue in the city of Chicago is about stop and frisk. They were just pulling Black men over and stopping and frisking them. They ruled that unconstitutional because they didn’t have probable cause. So, they’re using bicycling on the sidewalk, which is illegal and I agree with them, but they’re using that as a way to pull you over, and they run your name, so that’s a way of doing stop and frisk,” said Smith.
Indeed, a Chicago Tribune article written just this past March reported that: “The top 10 community areas for bike tickets from 2008 to Sept. 22, 2016, include seven that are majority African American and three that are majority Latino. From the areas with the most tickets written to the least, they are Austin, North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, South Lawndale, Chicago Lawn, West Englewood, Roseland, West Garfield Park, New City and South Chicago.”
But to most Black and Brown Chicagoans, discrimination is just a part of life. What’s the draw for Mexico? Smith says he’s been to Mexico several times and “they treat you like a person. I felt welcomed. You know, they didn’t see skin color.”
For Dominique Forbes, who has lived in Chicago for the past 19 years, it was a combination of economics and violence that prompted her to relocate. She’s moving to Houston, Texas. And even though she was able to secure a job before leaving, not having one would not have stopped her. The former North-Grand High School teacher just wanted out. Oddly, in a meeting at work, several people mentioned to me that they also knew Black people headed to Texas. So what’s so great about moving to Texas? We know it didn’t work out so well for Sandra Bland.
“The cost of living is different in Texas. Groceries cost less. Their taxes are less than ours. I know we’re at about 10.25 percent taxes. They’re at like 8 percent or 8.25 percent taxes. In the state of Texas, there is no state income taxes, so my paycheck will only be taxed one time for federal taxes. Their school system pays their teachers throughout the entire school year versus with CPS I only get paid from September to June,” said Forbes.
I lived in Texas for a year and I will say the no income tax thing is a nice perk.
But Forbes also pointed to the quality of life issues as a reason for her move.
“The violence in the city, a lot of the things that have been happening in Chicago, especially as a teacher I’m touched by the violence quite a bit because my students are touched by the violence. Hearing their stories as I worked in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood. The stories and the fear that my students had especially because a lot of them, their parents are immigrants; fear that their parents are not going to come home. Their classmates getting shot. They’re getting shot at. Their fear of being outside in their own neighborhoods because of the violence in the city. You see the increased police presence on the South Side of Chicago, but it’s not necessarily a police presence if you don’t feel like it is there necessarily to protect you so to speak. When you hear the stories and see the increased presence, it doesn’t make me feel like I’m being necessarily protected in my neighborhood because I still hear the gunshots. People are still breaking into cars, so it’s like not to say that the police aren’t doing their jobs, but if you’re here to protect me, why do I not feel protected?”
Smith and Forbes underscore why we as a community need to back the current class-action lawsuit brought on by several leading community groups, including the local Chicago Black Lives Matter. The 132-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago pushes for an overhaul of Chicago’s 12,000-officer force, putting the force under the scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor answerable to a judge. Chicago has its racial divisiveness and other issues, but it’s still a great city. We need to fight for our neighborhoods and a decent way of life before they aren’t even ours anymore because everyone up and left.
Teri Williams, president and chief operating officer of One United, the first Black internet bank and the largest Black-owned bank in the country, which has customers in the Chicago area, was really able to articulate what we all need to take to heart: some people are more than happy to see us leave the state or the city and take over our prime real estate and make it their own.
“We should use our collective resources to ensure that our communities maintain our culture. And I do know that especially amongst the older generation, they’re sort of, and I hate to put it this way, tired of our neighborhood and they just can’t imagine it being any different. But it will absolutely be different and it will improve and it will improve in terms of the services that are provided. And I just hate to see us lose our creditors and the prime real estate. I strongly feel like if we could just manage to get homes, to stay in them or pool money collectively as a family and buy multi-family and everybody live on a floor…. Really, now is the time to squat, to be where we are, so I can’t say that enough. I can’t say that strongly enough. [Black people] should definitely buy in the city and buy specifically in our community.”