Mayor’s narrow focus on firearms won’t keep neighborhoods safe — but investment will

Violence arises from a lack of good-paying jobs, affordable housing, access to quality medical care, childcare and a good education — not from access to guns.

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Police investigate a shooting in Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood on July 9, 2021.

Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times

To truly make our communities safe, we need to ramp up efforts to prevent violence before it happens, and before the police are ever involved.

This week, organizers and advocates celebrated as police accountability reform finally passed in the Chicago City Council after being stalled for two years by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. This long-overdue civilian oversight is a chance for Chicagoans to see under the hood and understand how the Chicago Police Department works and uses its $1 billion annual budget. It’s a chance to rethink how we classify spending on public safety, because police alone cannot keep Chicago safe.

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The mayor’s violence prevention strategy has narrowly focused on getting illegal guns off the street, and her methods make for good headlines, but they are doomed to fail. Last week, the mayor announced a $1 million tip line for residents to report information on people in possession of firearms that are illegal or used in the commission of a crime, copycatting Ohio’s Republican governor, who tried and failed to peddle cash prizes to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19.

People who have witnessed crimes face serious threats to their safety if they snitch. No such threats exist for people getting vaccinated, yet this plan for guns is supposed to work? There is a cold cynicism motivating the idea that low income families will take such risks to help the police — who they very often distrust — and put themselves at great risk for the vague promise of cash. On top of that, CPD actually does a pretty good job getting illegal guns off the street, reporting an increase of 26% over this time last year.

Guns are the tool that inflicts violence, but they are not the source of violence. Northsiders have just as much access to illegal guns from Indiana as anyone on the South or West sides, but we don’t see the same level of violence in those wealthier communities. That’s because violence arises from a lack of investment in communities — a lack of good-paying jobs, affordable housing, access to quality medical care, childcare and a good education — not from access to guns.

We saw these same tactics in the failed Reagan-era War on Drugs, a racist policy that increased the severity of drug-related crimes, criminalizing a symptom of poverty instead of addressing root causes.

To start, we should be investing in a year-round, youth and young adult jobs program that’s funded by the city budget, with jobs that are accessible to the people who really need them. This means addressing transit equity in Chicago and appreciating that not everyone can easily get to the Loop.

That would be a real start to preventing violence in Chicago and keeping our communities safe.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th)

Do you feel lucky about Lolla?

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaking of the risks of COVID-19 spreading at Lollapalooza, says she is “confident that the Lolla folks have a good solid plan in place. And we’re gonna obviously hold them accountable to make sure that plan is enforced.”

At the same time, though, the mayor has ignored the problem that people who ride the CTA — and those who work for the CTA — have no choice but to take crowded trains and buses in which people are not being made to wear masks. Is there some reason the mayor is not holding the CTA accountable for this?

Supposedly, masks are required on the CTA, but that seems to be only lip service. There is an obvious disconnect between stated policy and what’s actually taking place.

Attending Lollapalooza is going to be like playing Russian roulette with your health. As Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry asked, “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya?”

Michael Pearson, Englewood

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