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Former Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson
Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson
Sun-Times file photo

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Chicago’s cops can’t fight gun violence all alone

A more lasting approach to curbing shootings begins with asking why a group of young people thought it was a terrific idea to paint gang graffiti on a symbol of our city.

The first shooting of the weekend occurred miles away from the prettiest parts of town, which is how it goes.

A young man and teenage girl were walking down Michigan Avenue near 87th Street on the South Side Friday afternoon when somebody popped out of an alley and shot them. The man was in critical condition at a hospital. The girl’s injuries didn’t appear life-threatening.

In trying to make sense of what happened to these two victims — as well as 54 other people shot, five of them fatally, last weekend — we’re very much interested, as anyone would be, in what the police might learn.

Was this a gang thing? Was it about drugs? Where did the gun come from?

At the same time, we find ourselves thinking about an entirely unrelated crime — a relatively small crime — that occurred a few days later, 11 miles further north, in one of the prettiest places in town, Millennium Park.

Somebody spray-painted graffiti — “35th Street Crew” — on the Bean.

A group of people vandalized “The Bean” July 2, 2019
Graffiti on Cloud Gate, known as ‘The Bean,’ in Millennium Park on July 2, 2019.
Jermaine Nolen/Sun-Times

Every shooting in Chicago is a law enforcement matter. We need good cops and tough gun laws. We have argued for longer sentences for gun crimes.

But every shooting is also bloody proof that Chicago is suffering from an epidemic of violence, a public health crisis as real as the plague. As Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said, we cannot “arrest our way out” of this.

A more lasting approach to curbing gun violence might begin with asking why a group of young people thought it was a terrific idea to slip into Millennium Park and paint gang graffiti on a glimmering symbol of Chicago.

The Bean is our Chicago, but maybe not theirs. Not that they can see.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of murders in Chicago are committed by people — most often young men of color — who don’t feel they’re a part of this city, not in healthy and positive ways. They don’t see a chance. They don’t see a future. They go down the wrong road because at least it’s a road, and they don’t see much to lose.

This is no excuse for being a killer. Lock up the shooters. The safety of law-abiding and innocent people comes first.

It is an argument, though, for taking the onus off the cops to dramatically solve our city’s violent crime problem. We dump it on them. It is an argument that says criminals are made, not born, and Chicago is really good at making them.

At a press conference on Monday, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson tried to put the best spin on the latest crime numbers, an exercise in defensive posturing that made no sense.

Fifty-six people were shot in Chicago last weekend, he acknowledged, but shootings in the city have hit a four-year low. In the first six months of this year, 1,229 people were shot, which was about 100 fewer than in the first six months of last year.

Johnson talked about “the challenges that we face.” He said the causes of gun violence are “complex and profound.” He talked about how he had increased police patrols in neighborhoods where the police expect “retaliation” shootings.

Johnson said the police have taken 5,200 guns “off the street” so far this year. He said the police top brass — himself included — were hitting the streets with their officers and detectives. He said the police were moving into the hot summer with a “heightened sense of urgency.”

This is all good, no doubt, but we don’t understand why Johnson was standing there alone. Chicago’s top cop, in uniform, was by himself in explaining how crime had “ticked up” or “ticked down,” as if this problem child belonged only to him.

God bless the man, but let’s get honest.

Crime bumps up and down in Chicago for more reasons than anybody can weigh or measure. Maybe it’s good or bad policing. Just as likely it’s about the weather — June was wet and cool. Or another gang turf war over drug sales. Or the inability of another young guy with a bad education to get a job that doesn’t look like a dead-end. Or parents who don’t parent. Or utter poverty.

Name your poison. It’s all real.

As much as we put great stock in good police work, the heart of Chicago’s crime-prevention efforts must always be better schools, more jobs, more after-school and sports programs, and all the other social and economic supports.

This, we know, is hardly a secret.

A small but good example of what we’re talking about was announced by Lightfoot two weeks ago. As part of a $1.4 billion program funded by the city, the Chicago Public Schools and private donations, 400 teenagers deemed most likely “to be impacted by gun violence” will be showered with activities and individual counseling through the summer.

They will work on community service projects, take field trips and play sports. They’ll also make a little money — $1,200 for the summer.

You know what this sounds like? A typical summer for a kid on the North Shore.

Chicago needs more of this — and more of everything that gives every young person, on every side of town, a fighting chance.

As we say, criminals are made, not born.

So, too, are happy, productive and law-abiding men and women.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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