‘America the Beautiful and Violent’ Tackles Structural Issues in Chicago


Violence in Chicago sometimes leads to descriptions of the city as a “battleground” or “war zone.”

But author Dexter Voisin says those narratives ignore the structural issues behind the violence seen in many Chicago communities.

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In his new book, “America the Beautiful and Violent: Black Youth and Neighborhood Trauma in Chicago,” Voisin hopes to shine a light on those issues and provide strategies for disrupting the cycle of violence and trauma.

Voisin, a professor and dean at University of Toronto’s School of Social Work, has been researching structural violence and its effects in Chicago for the past 20 years. After compiling survey data, in-depth interviews, historical data and focus groups, he says he hopes to elevate the voices of those affected by trauma.

“The story of some neighborhoods is often coming from law enforcement,” Voisin said. “The voices of the kids and how they were dealing with violence were not being told.”

When you pull back the curtain on these communities, he said, you see examples of structural violence like a lack of social investment and jobs, under-resourced schools and high levels of policing.

“All those systems peel away hope and create despair in a community,” Voisin said.

Voisin points to the story of 15-year-old Marcus, who he describes in his book as “a walking victim of trauma” after the boy saw someone get shot and thrown into the back of a car. Marcus was walking to school at the time, and told Voisin he didn’t tell anyone what he’d seen.

“He went to school with the effects of trauma embodied in his mind and he had no help,” Voisin said.

As to addressing this type of trauma and the cycle of violence, Voisin suggests community reinvestment, dealing with the lack of access to health care and scaling back on over-policing.

“We need to go from demonizing these communities to humanizing,” Voisin said. “The root of many of these forms of violence is poverty.”


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