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We must demand reforms to reduce homicides in Cook County

Chicago should make reducing violence a priority.

A memorial for University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng is set up at the 5400 block of S. Ellis Ave. in the Hyde Park Neighborhood on Nov. 12. Zheng was murdered in the 900 block of E. 54th Place.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Recently, Cook County reported that it had surpassed 1,000 homicides so far in 2021. Chicago has now recorded over 800 homicides this year. In Cook County, 81% of the homicide victims were Black and 15% were Latino. The Chicago Crime Lab’s analysis of the Chicago Police Department’s data states the homicide rate among Black Chicagoans is the highest it has ever been.

These numbers and the reality of lives lost in Chicago and Cook County are alarming, outrageous, and unacceptable. While we are given daily reports of COVID-19 and its variants — as we should — the silence about the blood on our streets is deafening. We continue to say this violence is not normal, and yet for those living on the South and West sides, it has become normal.

Thus, we demand the following:

1. Solve homicide cases. A great deterrent to committing a shooting is to know you will be caught. In Chicago, you are likely not to be caught. On Nov. 9, Dennis Zheng was murdered in Hyde Park. The killer was apprehended in 24 hours, and the mayor and police superintendent met with businesses, community residents, and schools. We applaud this response. We just want this to be the norm for all homicides in Chicago, not the exception. Black Lives Matter.

2. Allow residents who are able to testify to do so anonymously. Fear is a great deterrent for people to testify. Research done by the law firm of Winston & Strawn shows that, historically and legally, this can happen. We want the state’s attorney’s office to begin to implement this as soon as possible.

3. We want the city to work with the Chicago Housing Authority to provide relocation vouchers to people who testify so that they can make use of relocation if necessary.

4. We want safety and protection for witnesses to homicides and a streamlined process for engagement with the investigation and trial process.

5. We demand an increase to detective staffing so they can handle the alarming number of cases. Also, increase mental health resources for Chicago police officers. The Chicago Police Department has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

6. We want an assistant state’s attorney assigned to homicides in police districts or areas with high rates of homicide, which would allow them to gain knowledge of the areas and develop relationships with police patrols, specialized units and detectives.

7. The state’s attorney’s office must stop declining prosecution for non-fatal shootings.

8. Develop a cold case task force of federal and state law enforcement agencies focused on solving and bringing charges for past homicides.

9. Improve resources for collecting and analyzing forensic evidence, improve access to the state’s DNA and Ballistics Lab, and increase support for area technology centers, as well as improve resources to analyze cell phones and social media posts.

10. America has a love affair with guns. We must not only arrest gun traffickers, but pressure the Biden administration to pass federal common sense gun laws.

11. End the tale of two cities. Provide jobs, mental health counseling, housing and other opportunities to young brothers and sisters so they can engage with something positive in their lives.

We cannot wonder why people are leaving Chicago — if you have a Black or Brown child, you are concerned for their safety and their very life.

We want the City of Chicago to immediately make violence a top priority. You can’t get a vaccine or booster if you’re not alive.

Rev. Michael L. Pfleger is senior pastor at the Faith Community of Saint Sabina.