Shortly after the Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy announced an 18-year-old teen had been charged in the fatal shooting of 11-year-old Shamiya Adams, Mayor Rahm Emanuel got a grilling from teens on the South Side.
The students, who are upper classmen at several Chicago public high schools, are participating in Greencorps Youth Program, a violence prevention summer employment program.
Greencorps, sponsored by the “Leave No Veteran Behind” non-profit organization, has an innovative bike repair project and a program that teaches young people about urban agriculture.
After viewing a garden project on the corner of 76th and Saginaw, the mayor sat down Thursday with 20 students to a Papa Johns pizza lunch held in the basement of the Windsor Park Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Not surprisingly, several questions from the teens had to do with ongoing gun violence.
One teen asked what could the mayor do to expand a Chicago teen’s life expectancy?
Another asked what could be done to get more gangs off the corner?
In each instance, the mayor rattled on about the benefits of the city’s summer jobs program, building community trust in law enforcement, and the role the teens themselves play in reducing the violence.
“There’s certain things I can do… I have a role to play… You have a role to play. A big piece of that is what you are doing this summer and what you are doing next year because that has a big impact… What you do with your life is a big piece of it,” the mayor said.
But the tragic circumstances surrounding Shamiya’s death made the mayor’s response sound hollow.
Tevin Lee, the teen charged with firing the gun that sent a bullet flying through a slightly open window, killing yet another innocent, apparently worked with an anti-violence program.
In fact, a man who worked with Lee described him as “very humble” and “eager to learn.”
That description doesn’t at all jive with the allegations against Lee.
Police claim the teen, a high school graduate, was retaliating against rival gang members when he fired a gun into a crowd standing near the home where Shamiya was attending a sleepover.
Obviously, Lee is innocent until proven guilty. But it appears, at least for now, that efforts designed to keep this “at risk” teen from picking up a gun failed miserably.
So what now?
A 17-year-old female student attending Chicago Vocational Career Academy asked the question that got to the crux of the matter.
“What are we going to do to get more gangs off the corner? We have a lot of gangs standing on our corners which is why so many people get killed, so I was wondering what are we going to do?” she asked.
Clearly, the teens who are involved in positive activities like the Greencorps Youth Program are the ones “at-risk” when it comes to gang violence.
Too often, these are the innocents that get killed when rival gang-members go after each other on our streets.
Unfortunately, the answer the mayor gave the young woman was disappointing.
“A lot of this is making sure police move these people off the corners where these kids are gathering…. Folks in the community know who is a member of a gang and part of what we do from the law enforcement side is work with the communities so that they are not intimidated by the gangs…,” the mayor said.
“The second piece of this is we’ve got to make sure… that the young men who make up gangs know there are alternatives,” Emanuel added.
Those are lofty goals.
But in the meantime, how many innocent teens have to die before the city starts looking elsewhere for answers?