We should not accept any more children being gunned down

Society needs to recognize that everyone counts. It is unconscionable that children are being murdered in the streets of America. Step up and do something about it. I’ll join you.

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Mateo Zastro, 3, was fatally shot on the Southwest Side in a road rage attack, according to Chicago Police.

Mateo Zastro, 3, was fatally shot on the Southwest Side in a road rage attack, according to Chicago Police.

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No doubt, you have heard the words “tragedy,” “brutality,” “unspeakable,” “heartbreaking” and many more when it comes to media and politicians speaking and commenting on the shootings in Chicago — but also elsewhere — of young children. 

These are not just shootings. They are murders.

When we read headlines about a 5-year-old shot in the head while sitting in a car, a 3-year-old killed in a road rage incident, a 5-month-old killed in a drive-by shooting, do we just go on with our lives as if nothing has happened?

Something has to change, not only in the greater Chicago area but nationwide — and you know it.

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Yet the only individuals I see really making an impact are anti-violence advocates who are actually out on the street. These are the people you see on the news who are out there at 10 p.m., 11 p.m., 2 a.m., 5 a.m. and, in most cases, assisting families whose loved ones have been shot or murdered — in this case, small children.

So I thought to myself, “What can I do, as a former suburban police chief, to talk to you directly about setting priorities to reduce, if not completely eliminate, our children being shot and murdered in Chicago, the suburbs and nationwide?”

Are these shootings preventable? Yes.

Doing this starts with our culture, by which I mean our community culture. Far too often, children are exposed to gun violence at an early age and become desensitized to the effects of violence, and then they become more likely to use violence to resolve conflict or express emotions. That translates into gun violence, without a doubt.

The community culture must be one of ownership of our communities and our babies. I use that word because the children being slaughtered in Chicago are so very young.

When I was the police chief in Riverside, attending regional police chief meetings, regional planning meetings and statewide meetings for budgeting and other priorities, never once did I hear that the priority was to reduce gun violence, let alone gun violence and homicides of children.

I heard politicians, city managers and other stakeholders discuss beautification projects, planting trees, improving roadways and sidewalks and other economic drivers to increase tourism and revenue or attract new residents — but never once a plan to reduce gun violence.

Invest in early childhood, other proven programs

As for the state, we need to invest in programs that have data-driven outcomes, and there are many. The problem is that politicians do not like to wait 10 or 12 years, which is the investment that needs to be made. Politicians want quick answers and good headlines, but these programs take time.

Programs like Redeploy Illinois and Early Childhood Initiatives such as Head Start, home visiting and other programs to help parents raising children are where we need to invest our resources.

For those of you who think this is not the way and believe that this is some type of “liberal approach,” that is not true. It is an approach to ensure that children do not become the shooters we see on the streets today. These programs need long-term investments — they are not short-term priorities.

You may notice that a lot of these shootings are random, where gunfire is sprayed across streets or into vehicles indiscriminately. From where does this lack of respect for humanity develop? I would argue it comes from a tremendous lack of investment in early childhood programs.

What can be done right now to stop this culture of murder among and of our young people? Priorities always are tough choices, but the following needs to be addressed immediately:

  • Gun violence, specifically murder of our children, must be a No. 1 priority. Put casinos and beautification programs aside and instead put economic investment into reducing, if not eliminating, the brutal murders and gunfire in Chicago.
  • Invest heavily in both data-driven programs and in mentoring programs that have proven outcomes.
  • The community needs to step up and assist police when a child is shot or killed. I know there is great distrust of police, but when a child is shot or killed, someone in that community knows exactly what happened. That person needs to give that tip to the police, even if it is anonymously. What is important is that you help in the apprehension of these murderers.

I am concerned that in the areas where these crimes occur, many people just come to accept it as a way of life, understandably so. The Highland Park mass shooting received tremendous coverage and political traction, but the same news coverage never seems to happen on the South Side of Chicago and other blighted areas, including in the suburbs. Those are just the facts.

Society needs to recognize that everyone counts. It is unconscionable that children are being murdered in the streets of America. Step up and do something about it. I’ll join you.

Tom Weitzel is the retired police chief of Riverside. He has 37 years of law enforcement experience.

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