If the numbers are any indication, Chicago is headed for a disastrous, tragic summer.
Last weekend, 65 people were shot, 18 fatally, including a 1-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 17-year-old. Two weekends ago, 104 people were shot, with 15 killed, including a 3-year-old and four teens. On May 31, 18 people were killed in a single Sunday.
In total, Chicago has seen 300-plus homicides this year.
“We’re all part of this city,” Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said Monday before announcing that 1,200 additional officers will be deployed on Chicago streets during the upcoming Fourth of July weekend. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to what’s going on with the violence here.”
But we cannot stress the following strongly enough: Policing alone will not end it.
Thankfully, eight weeks into his new job, Chicago’s top cop seems to get that.
“Here’s what these evil, murdering bastards do: They hire young kids that don’t have any significant criminal histories,” Brown said.
Those kids are working as armed guards for street corner drug markets “because of the failures” in social services and a need “to feed their families,” he continued.
“Without the help of mentors in my neighborhood, I would have been one of these kids,” Brown said. “Kids don’t have that mentoring.”
They’re known as “shorties,” the supe said, meaning “short in stature and short in criminal history. It puts us in the position to have to arrest young people and put them in the pipeline to prison.
“These shorties are either the shooters or the victims. This is the complexity of Chicago’s violence.”
The takeaway is clear: Law enforcement can fulfill its role by confiscating firearms, arresting suspected gun offenders and moving drug dealers off the corner. But even so, there will always be another illegal gun for sale, another gang member ready to shoot at a rival and instead kill another child.
In a normal world, we would jump at an offer by the president of the United States to lend a helping hand to Chicago, as Donald Trump pretended to do last week in a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
But let’s get real: Trump used the letter to grouse about high taxes in Illinois, “law and order” and Lightfoot’s and Pritzker’s supposed failings. He has no interest in a serious discussion about anything of importance, including gun violence prevention and urban policy.
Engaging with him is a fool’s errand.
Chicago doesn’t have that time to waste.
Stopping the violence, starting to heal
Our city must marshal its own resources, financial and otherwise, against the epidemic. City Hall, Cook County, the state of Illinois, community groups, educators and civic and business leaders must pull together, channel their moral anger and financially support every strategy that shows potential for curbing violence.
A little more than 10 years ago, then-Gov. Pat Quinn made a haphazard attempt to do this through a $54.5 million taxpayer-funded effort called the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. The program ended up embarrassing Quinn: Politically connected people cashed in, and key work to stop violence didn’t get done. The state’s auditor general concluded NRI was rife with “pervasive” mismanagement.
That said, had the program been done right, we might not be writing this editorial today.
A more well-thought-out version of Quinn’s program — with the right amounts of money going to the right organizations — might play a key role in turning around violent neighborhoods today.
How about more funding for the Metropolitan Peace Academy, which trains street outreach workers to respond to shootings and help prevent further retaliatory violence by gang members? How about more support for ConTextos, which gives young Black and Brown men who’ve gotten caught up in the violence a chance at using words to help them escape it?
In a compelling essay in the Sunday Sun-Times, one such man — 25-year-old Charles Woodhouse — explained why he and other young Black men must have an opportunity to heal, emotionally as well as physically, from the trauma that too many of them experience daily.
Imagine being 11 years old and seeing someone murdered. Imagine being shot 21 times at age 15 and having to spend two years learning to walk, talk, drink and eat again. Imagine going to prison at age 17, then being released without an education that could help you put your life back on track.
All of that and more happened to Woodhouse, who grew up in Auburn Gresham on the South Side.
“The problem doesn’t start with homicide counts. It doesn’t start with numbers shot. It starts earlier in our communities,” he wrote. “We — and I’m talking about Auburn Gresham, but I think I’m also talking about so many neighborhoods and so many young Black men — have constantly lived in trauma.“
Read Woodhouse’s essay and think about how you would answer these questions that he poses:
“Do we really want Chicago to only be known for its violence? Or can we take a chance and let us be known for a real investment in healing?”
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