clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

To combat pervasive violence, be innovative and forward-thinking

We know from history that a return to failed law-and-order policies of the past will not yield the results we are seeking.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, listens as Chicago Police Supt. David Brown speaks to reporters at a press conference on violence prevention in 2022 at Chicago Police Headquarters on Jan. 6.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, listens as Chicago Police Supt. David Brown speaks at a press conference on violence prevention in 2022 at Chicago Police Headquarters on Jan. 4.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

For the first time since the early 1990s, the City of Chicago crossed the grim milestone of 800 murders in 2021. Each of these victims is not just a number on a screen or a data point, but one of our fellow community members. I feel the weight of this tally deeply, not just as a Black man, but as a resident of a community that continues to struggle with violent crime.

I have lived in the 6th Ward for my entire life. The last time our city saw this level of violence, I, along with groups United In Peace and 21st Century VOTE, participated in efforts aimed at brokering a cease-fire amongst rival street gangs/organizations in my community. The South Side is my home. It’s where I shop, worship, bank and provide for my family. My commitment to our community is both profound and personal. That’s why I will continue to fight to ensure that a person’s Zip code no longer determines that person’s level of safety.

While trends show rising violence in all of Chicago, the Black community still bears the brunt of this decades-long pandemic. To date, over 80% of the murder victims in Chicago are Black. This is unacceptable and unsustainable. Whether you are pumping gas, shopping, or simply walking in your neighborhood, you deserve to feel and be safe.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

We know from history that a return to failed law-and-order policies of the past will not yield the results we are seeking. And we also know that finger-pointing and hyper-polarization will only lead to more infighting, during a time where we must come together as a city. We must take a more holistic approach that balances the focus on eradicating long-term root causes with the immediate need to stop the carnage in our city. To combat this rising tide of violence, we have to be innovative in our approach and forward in our thinking. Punitive, surface-level 1990’s-era proposals like gang forfeiture laws only lead to over-incarceration and increased disparities.

Take it from me: Chicago’s street organizations are not the large, structured criminal enterprises they once were. Today they exist as smaller decentralized factions, sometimes differing block by block. This makes for a unique challenge that our city faces, with over 747 factions and 2,500 subsets.

This hyper-local issue will benefit from hyper-local solutions and attention. Initiatives such as increasing mental health resources, strengthening the detective division within the Chicago Police Department and partnering with aldermen to fund block clubs that will serve as the backbone of our neighborhoods will help stem the tide of violence. The only way we defeat this issue is together. In the words of my late father, Mayor Eugene Sawyer, “As a people and as a city we must find a way to come together with a mutual respect for our differences.”

Chicago is being ravaged by two pandemics: COVID-19 and violence. But we are a resilient city that can and will defeat them both. As we enter the new year, I renew and strengthen my commitment to ending both.

Roderick T. Sawyer is alderman of Chicago’s 6th Ward.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.