CITY HALL — Mayor Rahm Emanuel had been expected to talk about the role of parenting in preventing violence in his big speech Thursday, but aldermen and activists cautioned him about the "myth" of the absentee African-American father.
In the end, Emanuel seemed to sidestep the issue in his speech on Thursday, and mentioned the word "parenting" just once.
"We need to strengthen policing, prevention, penalties and parenting," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks.
In briefly laying out his plans for his speech on Wednesday, Emanuel had the "parenting" issue in terms of addressing "mentorship" programs like My Brother's Keeper.
"The Vice Lords are ready to be a mentor. Is Chicago ready to be a mentor?" Emanuel said. "We know what the gangs are offering. The question is will there be an alternative for our kids to choose from?"
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) challenged the factual basis for the "myth" of the fatherless African-American family.
"I don't know that we'd go to Appalachia and talk about absent parents," Pawar said. "If we're going to be serious about talking about what's going on with families in poor communities, the mass incarceration has to be at the top of the list, and a failed war on drugs."
Others have taken issue with the notion of Emanuel getting on "a moral high horse" and lecturing African-Americans on the idea of family.
"I think the mayor should focus on economic policy," said Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative. "Blaming fathers and blaming families for crime is really disingenous."
Yet Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) defended the idea of attending to families if focused on wider social issues.
"I would like to see us look at ways in which we can actually rebuild the family unit and find ways in which we can get police and families to engage," Lopez said. "I'd like to hear an announcement about year-round employment for youth, things that keep idle hands busy."
Lopez said he hopes Emanuel has ideas on "some new corporate partners in Chicago," and using them to drive economic development, "not just Downtown," but also in the neighborhoods.
"We have a lot of corporate philanthropy and corporate activism that we need to tap into," he said.
Yet Pawar warned that "philanthropy lets rich people choose what's worthy and what's not," and instead urged the mayor to act as a "counterbalance" to Gov. Bruce Rauner, "a guy who is cutting programs [and] basically destroying what little safety net there is in Illinois."
Pawar went on to say that "a counterbalance to that is a strong mayor who's going to say this is wrong," adding, "We have a moral imperative to tax appropriately and serve everyone."
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