His visit, and that of the First Lady to Hadiya Pendleton's funeral, were the result of public shaming, and pressure put on the White House from a petition sponsored by The Black Youth Project.
Citizen activism can work.
However, beyond the symbolic gesture of the country's first black president visiting a community where black and brown young people are killing each other for sport, what will Obama's visit accomplish substantively? Symbolism matters; however, do symbolic gestures translate into changes in the quotidian, the day-to-day lived realities of people in these violence plagued neighborhoods?
[This is also an empirical question. Is there any research on if elites through symbolic gestures (speeches, outreach programs, public condemnation of offenders) can actually impact local crime rates or other types of social disorganization?]
In thinking through questions of crime and violence in America's central cities, I keep returning to a worrisome coincidence of trends and values that have been developing since the rise of Post-Fordism in the 1960s and the acceptance of Ronald Reagan's "common sense" claim that government is the problem and not the solution.
neoliberalism hyper-conservatism wins as the American people are unable to disentangle the spurious belief that capitalism, the corporation, and democracy are one and the same.
Austerity is going to be a way of life in the United States. As such, Barack Obama shows no signs of substantively engaging income and wealth inequality. With his bargain to modify the Bush era tax cuts, he actually protected the very rich. There are also no signs that either the carried interest loophole will be closed or a financial transactions tax will be enacted--basic steps that could help to rebuild the country's infrastructure, help to pay down the national debt, and shore up a frayed and broken social safety net.
Major American cities are going broke. Detroit, as an object lesson in this crisis, is abandoning its basic responsibilities to the people of that once great city: police no longer immediately respond to calls for assistance in response to murder and other violent crimes. Chicago police are no longer immediately responding to calls about property crimes. Thus, in both cases, the taxpayer is left to fend for him or herself.
The result is a creeping state of nature where the basic social contract has been broken. People then have no choice but to form posses, arm themselves, or hire private security forces for protection. The militarization of our communities becomes a de facto state of affairs. And the corporation is left to fill the gaps created by a retraction of State responsibility.
Grover Norquist must be smiling at these developments. Sheldon Wolin and Henry Giroux must be shaking their heads in how their observations about inverted democracy, biopolitics, and the Age of Disposability have/are coming true.
The rich do not care about the destruction of the public commons, and breaking of the social contract because elites (Congress and other professional bureaucrats are part of this cohort as well) have the resources to hire private security guards, their own fire departments, and send their children to private school.
Moreover, the destruction of the public good is an opportunity to increase the maldistribution of resources in favor of the top income earners because those monies saved on basic services can then be returned to elites in the form of tax cuts and other subsidies.
Ultimately, if citizens actually believe that "freedom from" is a more important imperative than "freedom to", how can the State ever be given sufficient resources to successfully intervene in basic matters of public safety and health?
The BBC's Louis Theroux is an indispensable TV host and documentarian. He is also very entertaining and skilled, using his nebbish, self-effacing personality to encourage his subjects to let down their guard, and to "be real."
His investigation of crime, privatization, and hyper-conservatism run amok in Johannesburg is eerily prescient as we look at the condition of America's central cities today. The world is a "world of slums." The challenge: how do we keep America from joining it?