Good Kids Mad City proposes youth-driven approach to stop violent crime

The so-called “Peacebook” ordinance calls for diverting 2% of the Chicago Police Department’s $1.7 billion budget — $34 million — to fund job training and violence prevention programs led by young people in Chicago neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.

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Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) discusses the Peacebook Ordinance during a news conference at City Hall with Good Kids Mad City, Wednesday morning, June 22, 2022.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) discusses the Peacebook Ordinance at City Hall Wednesday morning, joined by members of Good Kids Mad City.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has imposed an earlier curfew and banned unaccompanied minors from Millennium Park on weekends, only to see the outbreak of youth violence continue with fights at North Avenue Beach that have spilled over into Old Town.

It’s time to try something new: a solution devised and driven by Chicago youth.

That’s the philosophy behind the so-called “Peacebook Ordinance” introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) on behalf of the youth group Good Kids Mad City.

It calls for diverting 2% of the Chicago Police Department’s $1.7 billion budget — $34 million — to bankroll programs led by young people in Chicago neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.

Sheila Bedi, an attorney representing Good Kids/Mad City, said the Chicago Police Department has a “gang book that lists all of the young people deemed to be criminals.”

But what Chicago needs, she said, is a “peacebook” establishing citywide and neighborhood commissions to “invest in the leadership potential of young people doing the work doing the work of keeping peace in their communities.”

“The money would be used to fund peacekeepers who are on social media able to identify when tension is arising and immediately go into the work of diffusing it. It would also go into job training programs, mental health services, restorative justice training and ensuring that we have peacekeepers who are on the streets diffusing any kind of conflict that might arise and negotiating agreements between factions that have tension,” Bedi said.

Lightfoot balanced her pandemic-ravaged 2021 budget partly by eliminating 614 vacancies in the Chicago Police Department. Since then, a tidal wave of police retirements has left CPD with nearly 2,000 fewer officers than when the mayor took office.

During a police graduation ceremony last fall, Lightfoot declared she would “never yield” to the “loud voices” seeking to defund the police because the “silent majority” overwhelmingly supports the police.

“What I hear, what I know from polling that I’ve seen is, the loud voices that are calling for all sorts of things that are untethered from the reality that you face every single day — those are not the majority of voices in this city,” Lightfoot told the 200 graduates on that day.

“Our residents are desperate for your help and your support. They want more police — not less police. We are not a city and will never be a city that bows to those arguing for de-funding. That’s not who we are. And that’s not what our residents want.”

Chicago police work the scene where a man was shot while riding on a Red Line train near 47th Street Red Line station, Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

Chicago police work the scene where a man was shot while riding on a Red Line train near 47th Street on Tuesday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Against that backdrop — and polling that shows violent crime foremost on the minds of voters — it will be exceedingly difficult to convince the mayor and City Council members embroiled in their own re-election campaigns to cut a penny from the police budget, let alone $34 million.

But, Bedi made the case for it just the same while saying that Good Kids/Mad City is “open to having a conversation on how to make this proposal real.”

“We have been investing in police, in [incarceration] solutions to community violence and they have failed over and over and over again. What this proposal does is, it tries to stop community harm before it even starts by giving young people the opportunity to engage in positive outlets that are led by their peers,” she said.

“One of the ways that other violence reduction initiatives have failed is because it’s top-down, adult-led. What we are hearing from young people is a need to resource their work sufficiently to create a culture of peace.”

Lightfoot has used the avalanche of federal COVID relief money to bankroll a host of violence prevention programs along with job training, educational and recreational activities for young people.

But Bedi said there is “no independent rigorous evaluation process” to measure those results.

“The Peacebook has that evaluation process,” she said.

The ordinance devised and championed by Good Kids Mad City wasn’t the only violence reduction plan introduced Wednesday.

Sawyer, a mayoral challenger, also proposed that the city create an “Office of Gun Violence Prevention” with at least $100 million in funding to create a “cohesive strategy” to stop the violence.

Susan Lee, Lightfoot’s former deputy mayor for public safety, promised to bring that office to Chicago to duplicate the results she achieved in Los Angeles. But she left before that could be accomplished.

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