It should come as no surprise, as the New York Times reports, that
The people of Chicago are deeply riven by race, class and neighborhood, distrustful of the police, fearful of the growing rate of violent crime and united chiefly in their disapproval of the mayor’s performance and their conviction that the city is headed down the wrong track.
It certainly wouldn’t have surprised Nelson Algren who, in 1951 described the contest between the Do-Gooders and the hustlers and declared that, while “The ball game isn’t over yet. . .it’s a rigged ball game.”
The only difference today is, Chicago’s hustlers are no longer on the streets but in the office buildings and luxury apartments that are concentrated in the Loop and on the north side. And the politicians and police whose job it is to protect their rigging of the ball game and to discipline everyone else, on the south and west sides, have lost all legitimacy.
Think about it: Chicago is now the most racially and ethnically segregated city in the country, and one of the most unequal (and, on top of that, spatially segregated by class). It’s clearly on the wrong track.
The police, meanwhile, have engaged in a campaign of killing and torturing the civilian population, virtually with impunity, and acted like an occupying force, especially in poor, minority-concentrated neighborhoods—and they’ve done nothing to halt the spiraling homicide rate. The mayor, for his part, has covered up the killings and torture, while attempting to break the Teachers Union and obsessively pursuing the imposition of the Lucas Museum on Chicago’s mostly public lakefront.
And, as everyone knows, the game continues to be rigged in favor of the hustlers, who appropriate the surplus and distribute it to their friends who do with it what they want—not financing better schools or creating better jobs for the majority of Chicago’s population, but instead improving the quality of their own lives in the form of private housing and entertainment.
The twenty-first-century hustlers are also the Do-Gooders, who—with the assistance of the mayor and police—are mostly doing good for themselves.
That’s why—across the board—Chicagoans believe the police and mayor are doing a poor job and their city is pretty seriously on the wrong track.
And that’s why Chicago’s “bard of the down-and-outer,” if he could emerge from his memorial fountain, would be anything but surprised:
all the stately halls of science, the newest Broadway hit, the endowed museums, the endowed opera, the endowed art galleries, are not for their cold pavement-colored eyes. For the masses who do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart. And they think there’s something fishy about someone giving them a museum for nothing and free admission on Saturday afternoons.
They sense somebody got a bargain, and they are so right. The city’s arts are built upon the uneasy consciences that milked the city of millions on the grain exchange, in traction and utilities and sausage-stuffing and then bought conscience-ease with a minute fraction of the profits. A museum for a traction system, an opera building for a utilities empire. Therefore the arts themselves here, like the acres of Lorado Taft’s deadly handiwork, are largely statuary. Mere monuments to the luckier brokers of the past. So the people why away from their gifts, they’re never sure quite why.
Chicago’s hustlers are no longer rigging the game in the form of grain, tractors, utilities, and sausage. Now, it’s finance, insurance, real estate, and healthcare that form the basis of their income and wealth—with a “minute fraction of the profits” spent, in support fo the mayor and with their names prominently attached, on museums, parks, and monuments.
And the “masses who do the city’s labor,” and are forced to have the freedom to work in low-wage jobs and to live in deteriorating neighborhoods, know there’s something fishy about the hustle, along with the mayor and police whose only job seems to be to protect the rigged game.