On January 27th, 2013, fifty Southside Chicago community leaders and young people paid a visit to the University of Chicago campus to peacefully demand that the institution ensure its 700 million dollar medical center expansion include provisions for local residents. The protesters planned to stage a sit-in at the university’s new hospital, which is not yet open to patients, until the University agreed to provide urgently needed trauma-related services to the Southside community. University police responded to the protest with force and arrested 4 activists (3 adults, 1 young person). All 3 adults are now facing criminal charges. Two of these activists are members of a NESRI ally organization, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC). One of the CAEC activists facing charges, pictured below, is a graduate of Harvard University and PhD Candidate at the University of Chicago. His future, and those of the other activists, is now in jeopardy as a result of these charges.
Credit: Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / January 27, 2013
In an official statement made by event organizers, Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), FLY emphasized that the crisis facing Chicago’s Southside neighborhoods is not due to insufficient resources in the city, but as a result of market-based systems that inequitably distribute the resources available. This distribution fails to meet the needs of the least well off in our society, far too often with life or death consequences and continually with quality of life implications. The campaign for a trauma center began in 2010, when one of FLY’s co-founders was hit by a stray bullet blocks from the University of Chicago medical campus, but died en route to another trauma center over 10 miles away.
In the statement, FLY writes, “The University of Chicago is a few blocks from where we live, one of the areas where the violence is worst. They are the richest hospital in Chicago but have no trauma care for anyone over 16. The whole south side has none [no trauma center] because health care in our country is about profit, not about helping people who need it. That’s why the violence is so bad, because we don’t have what we need to survive. We live in neighborhoods where there’s no resources, no jobs, no youth programs, no mental health services, and the little they had they are taking away.”
If healthcare was treated as a fundamental human right, rather than a profit-generating business endeavor, everyone in our communities would receive the care they need, when they need it. Instead, our communities, especially the most vulnerable members, are deprived of the basic medical services necessary for their survival. To add insult to injury, they are also often criminalized for highlighting the inequities they face and for demanding the care they need.
Peaceful human rights demonstrations by young citizens seeking to ensure that basic human needs are met should be the object of commendation from educational establishments, not criminalization. NESRI stands in solidarity with FLY and Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) in their struggle for equitable access to trauma and other health care services. In addition, charging these activists for peacefully protesting can serve no useful purpose and could lead to excessive, disproportionate and gravely unjust consequences for the activists involved. We support the call for all the charges related to this incident to be dropped.
You can find more information in FLY’s statement about the protest and subsequent events on the 27th, see more about FLY’s trauma center campaign in this video, and sign FLY’s petition to drop the charges still pending against the activists and another petition to make trauma care available to Southside residents at the University of Chicago’s medical campus.