Vallas: Youth crime is on the rise in Chicago – and CTU’s school closures may be to blame for the trend

Vallas: Youth crime is on the rise in Chicago – and CTU’s school closures may be to blame for the trend

Rising crime in Chicago is being driven by an increase in youth crime – as a result of the Chicago Teachers Union’s policies and agenda, which undermine police and public safety.

Everyone is familiar with Chicago’s rising crime, but not everyone realizes the outsized role of the Chicago Teachers Union in the escalating crime pandemic. Chicago’s surge in youth violence coincided with CTU-forced closure of Chicago Public Schools in response to COVID-19, long after science and experience of schools demonstrated schools could open safely. At the same time, CTU leadership prioritized undermining support for police, despite rising crime.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab recently reported a 50% increase in shooting victimizations of school-aged youth 17 years and younger since 2019. Over 90% of victims were not enrolled in school. Earlier analysis by the Crime Lab documented 8% of those arrested were for homicides, 9% for shootings, 32% for robberies and 49% for carjackings were youth 17 years and younger.

What’s driving young Chicagoans to commit more crimes? While the causes of crime are complex, there is widespread agreement – from the FBI Director to former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot – that young people being out of school plays an important role. No single act was more responsible for keeping students out of school than the closing of Chicago Public Schools campuses for 17 months beginning in 2020. CPS has lost 87,000 students since 2010, when a radical wing of the Chicago Teachers Union took power.

The CTU-forced school closings swelled the ranks of young adults both out of school and jobs. The University of Illinois Chicago Great Cities Institute reports that in 2021, more than 92,000 Chicagoans age 16-19 were jobless, and 36,758 20-24 year-olds were both out of school and jobless. Meanwhile, Illinois State Board of Education data shows of the remaining students, an astonishing 45% were chronically absent in 2022.

That number was only 24% before the pandemic in 2019. Meanwhile, 52% of CPS students were chronically truant, a slightly different metric, in 2022. That’s 2.5 times higher than the state average. The accelerated exodus that is in part a product of the school closings and the constant education disruptions by the CTU has helped fuel the pipeline of new victims and criminals.

In 2020 and 2021, the teachers union, ignoring the clear harm they were doing to children, deployed the rhetoric of safety to oppose in-person learning, and even went so far as to call efforts to reopen schools “racist,” “sexist” and “misogynist.” While other essential workers returned in-person to protect them, deliver food for them and pick up their garbage, CTU leadership denied real education to those workers’ children.

School closures were not just an issue that affected teachers, kids and parents—this policy will have decades-long ripple effects that will reverberate through every aspect of society. While middle class and affluent families opted for charter and private schools nationally as a solution, the poorest and most vulnerable children remained trapped in a failing system. Children who never catch up will grow into damaged adults who struggle in the labor force, plagued by social dysfunction and will fill the crime statistics.

As if that were not enough damage, the CTU and their supporters’ all-out assault on the police undermine their ability to contain crime as the CTU are major public supporters of the anti-police, defund the police movement.

They ally with the Democratic Socialists of America, who call the Chicago Police Department a “white supremacist” organization. CTU leadership and rank-and-file members have organized and participated in anti-police and defund the police rallies. They blame police budgets for the lack of community investment. They pressure high school local school councils to remove police officers from schools, jeopardizing the safety of the most vulnerable students. Meanwhile CTU leaders overlook prevalent evidence of widespread sexual assault by its members against their students.

The demonization of police has undermined police morale, accelerated the exodus of officers through retirements and transfers and forced the city to lower the standards to attract new officers. Meanwhile, the CTU’s role in the demonization of the police and equating criminals with victims only undermines the trust needed between police and the community to ensure public safety. That lack of trust has contributed to the abysmal arrest rates that hover at under 33% for murders and 5% for non-fatal shootings.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, a longtime CTU leader and member, has carried over anti-police rhetoric to his new administration, which is overseeing a crime-ridden summer in Chicago. Add to that the mayor’s lack of intention to restore the police force, which is currently facing over 1,000 police vacancies and has 1,700 fewer officers than before Mayor Lightfoot took office. With fewer cops, the city is working the remaining officers ragged – Chicago has spent $126 million on police overtime in 2023, according to a WTTW analysis of city records. This is on pace to surpass last year’s $210 million record.

Anti-police organizations deliberately mislead the public by claiming that nearly 40% of the budget is for police, looking only at the city’s Corporate Fund which finances general operations. The fact is spending on CPD is only around 12% of the total city budget. Almost five times as much is spent on the Chicago Public Schools as is spent on police.

The dramatic decline in crime from the 1990s when the homicide rate fall by nearly half was not only a period in which police vacancies were filled, detective ranks were expanded and States Attorney’s made removing dangerous criminals the priority. It was also a time when schools made student safety a priority by opening school campuses beyond normal school hours, giving high school students paid work-study opportunitiesexpanding school choices for all families and alternative schools opened for students expelled or who dropped out. The mayor’s Aug. 11 firing of Dr. Allison Arwardy as Chicago’s top health care official, without even an interview or a chance to say farewell to her staff, comes across as political revenge for Arwady’s advocacy during COVID to reopen Chicago Public Schools once it became clear that in-person learning was safe and in the best interest of schoolchildren.

CTU’s radical leadership, along with the mayor, are simultaneously undermining the two social levers to reduce crime: Education and the criminal justice system. In the process they are demonstrating a callous indifference to wrenching daily tragedies in the city’s Black communities. Almost 80% of those murdered in Chicago are Black. Meanwhile the explanation for murders, shootings, carjacking, auto thefts, retail theft, and armed robbery is “inequity.” Until outcomes can be equalized, violence will reign.

These are results Johnson and the CTU own.

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