Activist blames spike in violence on ‘neighborhoods without investment’

“You don’t get peace when you leave folks without an economy, without being able to create generational wealth, not being able to create opportunities and jobs,” said Ja’Mal Green, who called on the mayor to divert funds from the Chicago Police Department.

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Community organizer Ja’Mal Green speaks at a news conference in front of the Chicago Police Department’s headquarters on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Green called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to address the root causes of violence, cancel the $33 million contract between the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools and reallocate $500 million from the police budget to better social services.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Community activist Ja’Mal Green is pushing back on what officials say accounted for the recent uptick in violence, saying funds used for the Chicago Police Department need to be redistributed to wage a war against poverty.

“You don’t get peace when you starve people,” said Green, standing outside the department’s headquarters. “You don’t get peace when you leave folks without a home. You don’t get peace when you leave folks without an economy, without being able to create generational wealth, not being able to create opportunities and jobs.”

On Monday, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown told reporters that the uptick in violence was driven by violent felons who have been released from custody too soon. But Green stressed that officials aren’t looking at the root causes of violence, calling for funds to bolster the county’s witness protection program, community centers and job programs.

“How do you expect things to change if we just throw money at policing but we are containing them in neighborhoods without investment, without programs, without mental health facilities, without community centers,” Green said.

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Green called for Lightfoot to divert funds from the Police Department to create a new agency that would include unarmed social workers and violence prevention workers who would respond to 911 calls related to people experiencing homelessness or mental health. He said this proposal would differ from the city’s existing 311 because it would have a dedicated team that would respond to the calls, rather than sending out police officers or firefighters.

He also demanded the removal of Chicago police officers in public schools, saying those funds should instead go toward hiring social workers.

Green called for the creation of wellness centers to provide mental health services, grants for small businesses on the South and West sides and for the creation of housing for young people who are homeless.

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Community organizer Ja’Mal Green fist-bumps his colleague after a news conference in front of the Chicago Police Department’s headquarters on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Green called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to address the root causes of violence, cancel the $33 million contract between the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools and reallocate $500 million from the police budget to better social services.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

He pointed out that other parts of the city, like Lincoln Park, seem to get more funds and residents there aren’t in “survival” mode like they are in other parts of the city.

Green’s push for the change in policing funds comes after days of increased violence. More than 100 people were shot this weekend, including several children. Nearly half of the shootings this weekend took place on the city’s West Side. The violence continued Monday, with an additional 41 people shot, 6 fatally.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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