It was 18 years ago that U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) convened the “Emergency African American Leadership Summit” to address the violence that plagues predominantly African-American communities.
Nothing has changed since then.
Worst yet, while thousands of people have been killed by gun violence over those years, the majority of homicides go unsolved.
But whenever there is a spike in violence that puts the city in a national spotlight, our local political leaders get together and offer up the same strategies they’ve been mouthing for nearly two decades.
Given the make-up of the Chicago City Council, black and brown communities should have the job training, better schools, counseling, and mental health facilities, they keep asking for by now.
But that’s another story.
Missing from the present-day conversation on gun violence is the role drug trafficking plays in corrupting the moral fabric of low-income communities.
Policy-makers are more concerned about opioid overdoses than they are about the drug trafficking turning neighborhoods into war zones.
The drug dealing contributes to the distribution and use of illegal weapons on the street; lures children into criminal behavior; and hooks users who then turn to crime to support their addictions.
It also makes poor neighborhoods where drugs are sold ground zero for aggressive policing.
And while there are people who shoot other people for reasons other than territorial disputes, too many of the shootings are gang- and drug-related.
Although police will point the finger at the community for not turning in the shooter, what family member is going to turn in someone who is putting food on the table?
But God forbid should someone suggest that the people living in communities where drug dealing flourishes bear some responsibility for what goes on there.
Rush blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s admonition to South and West Siders, that they should be blaming the shooters and not the police for this latest carnage.
While the mayor may be right, in areas of the city where gun violence is most prevalent, a lot of people are doing what they think they have to do to survive from day-to-day.
James E. Gierach, a former prosecutor and long-time advocate of drug policy reform, has waged a crusade across the country to end the War on Drugs that he says has led to violence in neighborhoods.
“It is not the drugs that cause the violence, it is drug prohibition that is causing it,” Gierach says.
In an interview in 2000, he pointed out that these “anti-violence summits” go back as far as 1992, when pols held a “Stop the Killing” conference in the wake of the murder of 7-year-old Dantrell Davis.
Davis was shot and killed as he walked to school with his mother in CHA’s Cabrini Green public housing development.
“We are just going to continue burying the bodies if we don’t get rid of this drug war,” Gierach told me back then.
And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing—burying black and brown bodies.
Rush acknowledged at the 2000 summit that politicians should at least have a discussion about how to take the profit out of drug use, though the subject didn’t end up on the agenda.
He agrees that past summits and conferences haven’t gotten much traction.
“We can’t get any traction because it is being viewed from a political expediency prism which translates into an election-year focus — is it going to help or hurt my election or re-election agenda?” he told me in a telephone interview.
“The kind of approach needed right now is a spiritual revival,” said Rush, who is also a pastor.
But he also called on anyone seeking to run for elected office to outline his or her plan for solving what he called an “epidemic of violence.”
“This is more than a law enforcement problem, a public health problem, an economic disinvestment problem and a spiritual problem,” he said.
What the congressman didn’t mention — again —was drug prohibition.
Gierach isn’t discouraged.
He posted an article about police and community relations and ending the War on Drugs on Huffpost on Tuesday.
“If you talk to the average guy living in Chicago or in the suburbs, that person has no notion of what it is like in neighborhoods where the police is just another armed gang that has the right to kill you,” he said.
Ending the scourge of gun violence being fueled by drugs and disinvestment will require frank dialogue and radical ideas.
Are we ready for that?