The gun violence plaguing Chicago continues to be one of our city’s gravest tragedies.
It is why many families have left Chicago and why whole communities live with PTS (Present Traumatic Stress), living in constant fear. It has made children the roadkill of our city. Teddy bears, balloons and yellow police caution tape have become our landmarks.
Ending gun violence will not be quick or easy, but we must aggressively address the problem. We cannot keep resorting to shallow Band-Aid solutions. We must have the courage and determination to get to the roots.
There are 15 or so Chicago neighborhoods that have seen the most violence. They suffer from:
· Underfunded and underperforming schools
· A lack of good and affordable housing
· High poverty levels
· The highest percentages of people returning from incarceration without any opportunities
· High unemployment
· A lack of access to mental health facilities
· High levels of neglect and abandonment, making some communities look like developing countries
· A lack of positive opportunities for young people
· An absence of economic development
· A broken relationship between the community — especially the youth — and the police
Two key words sum up what is missing: investment and opportunity. As the Rev. Martin Luther King said years ago, integration and voting rights didn’t cost anything, but creating equality on an unequal playing field will cost billions.
Critics of this view are quick to say, “We don’t have that kind of money.” But we found the money to re-create the West Loop, the South Loop and Lincoln Yards. We must find the resources, as well, to develop the neglected West and South sides.
The critics also can’t understand why the residents of many neighborhoods won’t talk to the police. But we have to understand — they simply don’t trust the police, and most people don’t share confidential information with people they don’t trust. They also are afraid of becoming a target if they work with the police; the next victim.
We may disagree with that thinking, but it’s the reality. And so I’d like to make two additional suggestions.
One of the greatest deterrents to shootings is the real possibility, understood by the shooter, of being caught, prosecuted and sentenced. Yet the Chicago Police clearance rate for murders — the percentage that are solved — is low. While I generally am not a proponent of incarceration, I believe that people who kill must be sentenced and incarcerated. So many killers on the street do not kill just once, and while they are free we all could become the next victim.
To help improve the police clearance rate for murder, I am suggesting:
1. The city should create a reward fund to which corporations, foundations, faith communities, individuals and government (stake holders in this city) can contribute. A reward of $10,000 then should be offered to anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest.
2. The city should create a witness protection program, allowing witnesses to relocate. Perhaps, for this purpose, Section 8 vouchers could be exchanged with other cities.
Finally, we as a country must deal with our love affair with guns. The gun has become a part of America’s wardrobe. Picking up a gun is how we handle our anger, whether in the workplace, road rage, domestic violence or on the street.
As a city and nation, we cannot accept gun violence as the new norm. It is not normal. We cannot become immune, apathetic or overwhelmed by it.
Government, the business community, faith institutions, community organizations and residents across Chicago must join hands and hearts, understanding that gun violence affects us all, and we must all be a part of the solution.
If we continue to turn our backs on the scourge of gun violence, or fail to have the courage to address the root causes, then we are all co-conspirators and accessories to the crime.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger is senior pastor at Saint Sabina Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side.
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