This piece was originally given as a public comment at the Chicago City Council Public Safety Budget Hearing on 9/17/20 by Brian Bennett.
A few years ago, I needed help. I was in a crisis. I was being crushed by the pressures of our economy and student debt. Like too many young Chicagoans, I was filled with self-loathing and self-doubt. I had no hope for my future.
I was deeply underinsured, so I went to a mental health clinic. A doctor came in. He did the stethoscope and all that. I told him I needed help. He said that they had no mental health professionals available. He told me to get more sleep and eat more vegetables (I refused to do either.). He handed me a piece of paper with a dozen mental health clinics on it. Some of them were crossed out — they had closed.
I went to the only one that could take my meager insurance. I met a therapist. She was a pro. In the first three meetings, I felt like she was moving me out of the immediate danger I was in. The fourth time I came to her office, she told me it would be the last time. The city had eliminated her position and likely the rest of the clinic.
I asked her “Where else can I go?”
She handed me a sheet of paper, folded in half. I walked outside and sighed, and opened the paper. It was the same sheet the guy at the last clinic handed me. But one more clinic was crossed off — the one I was standing outside of, the one that saved my life.
As I walked home, I passed intersections with millions of taxpayer dollars of surveillance cameras, red light cameras, and license readers. I passed a police SUV worth over $100,000, and the two cops inside, each of whom could cost us millions in settlements. I passed a station where police spend all day surveilling our social media pages while taking home millions in salary. I passed a squad of bike cops, looking like the Tour De France, decked out in the most expensive gear.
Let me be clear: I am not asking for more mental health clinics. I am demanding that 1.7 billion dollars in the CPD be used to build, hire and heal. Flood those billions into our neighborhoods; open hospitals; hire workers; build housing; reopen our eyes to what is possible in Chicago. Every single penny of that $1.7 billion is needed elsewhere.
When I sought help at the city health clinic, I felt shame. I felt shame for using city resources that other people needed just as desperately as I did. But as our electeds, this is the world you have built for us. Let me ask you all a question: do you feel shame, Aldermen? Do you feel shame for raising our taxes, then buying guns, cameras and SUVs, while we need groceries, healthcare and rent money?
The Thin Blue Line that gets thicker every year is not the line between order and chaos, or criminals and victims — it is the barrier between our current city and a truly thriving society.
Erase the Blue Line. Let us put our tax dollars to work building, growing, healing.
And if you don’t feel any shame, I can recommend a good therapist for you. Ah, no wait, you fired her.
Defund the CPD.