More cops and stricter curfews are not the answer to curb summer violence, groups say

Anti-violence activists and community leaders called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to address the “root causes” of crime, rather than relying on punitive measures that they don’t believe work.

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Various organizations hold a news conference introducing an open letter they signed calling on Mayor Lightfoot to address gun violence “by focusing on its root causes.” Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Community activists said Tuesday that the answer to tamping down violence among young people across the city is not curfews and more cops, but support and investment.

Earlier this month, a 16-year-old boy was shot to death in Millennium Park, allegedly by another teenager. Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded by banning unaccompanied minors from the park after 6 p.m. four days a week, a rule that went into effect Thursday.

The “knee-jerk reaction,” said Briana Payton, a policy analyst at the Chicago Community Bond Fund, is “just one more example of the response of punishing rather than asking the question of what communities need in order to thrive and feel safe from violence.”

Every year “like clockwork” gun violence rises with warmer weather in Chicago, Payton said. And every year, City Hall’s response is disappointing, she said.

Lightfoot has also called for moving up citywide curfews for minors and increasing the age of those impacted to 17 and under.

Payton, who is also a commissioner with the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, joined other community, faith and policy leaders at a press conference at Daley Plaza Tuesday. They said they spoke on behalf of more than 65 organizations across Chicago who signed an open letter to Lightfoot Monday calling for Lightfoot to address root causes of gun violence across the city, rather than focusing on punitive measures.

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Briana Payton, with the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, speaks at a press conference calling on Mayor Lightfoot to address gun violence “by focusing on its root causes.” Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Lightfoot often calls for more policing and incarceration, but those kinds of punitive solutions don’t work, she said. Instead, organizers said the focus should be on making young people feel supported and welcomed.

Avalon Betts-Gaston, project manager at the Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice and mother of two sons, proposed designing programs for young people in Millennium Park, such as concerts or speakers, rather than trying to keep them out.

“Instead of telling Black and Brown people from disinvested communities that you don’t belong in downtown Chicago, make it more welcoming,” Betts-Gaston said. “Instead of telling them they are unworthy, which is only furthering the trauma that they’re experiencing on a daily basis, tell them we love you, we welcome you, and we want to help you. That’s the message we should be sending to our children.”

The Rev. Christophe Ringer, board chairperson at A Just Harvest, said he’s seen that when young people get the right community support, they are able to recognize their gifts and talents and use them for the good of society, rather than engaging in harmful behavior.

Activist and Minister Christophe Ringer speaks at a press conference calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to address gun violence “by focusing on its root causes,” on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Activist and Minister Christophe Ringer speaks at a press conference calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to address gun violence “by focusing on its root causes,” on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Neither the mayor’s office nor the Chicago Police Department responded to requests for comment.

Leaders advocated for more investment in anti-violence intervention programs, as well as in food, housing, education, mental health, childcare and more in communities that are struggling to get at the real causes of violence, Ringer said.

“We cannot continue to ignore the evidence that predictable patterns of violence are rooted in economic disinvestment and desperation,” he said. “A just city works to repair the problems of inequality rather than” punishment.

Community organizers and other anti-violence groups held a news conference introducing an open letter they signed calling on Mayor Lightfoot to address gun violence “by focusing on its root causes,” on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Community organizers and other anti-violence groups held a news conference introducing an open letter they signed calling on Mayor Lightfoot to address gun violence “by focusing on its root causes,” on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

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