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Mitchell: depiction of violence provokes anger, calls for action

Shari Runner, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Chicago’s leaders tend to be thin skinned when it comes to how the city’s violence is portrayed.

Film director Spike Lee ticked off a bunch of aldermen with “Chi-Raq,” his fictional hip-hop account of Chicago’s homicide epidemic that was released in 2015.

Now Shari Runner, Chicago Urban League President and CEO, is blasting CBS “60 Minutes” report “Crisis in Chicago,” that aired on Sunday.

“While gang violence in the Chicago community continues to be a pressing issue, it would be remiss not to express that this segment was an overwhelmingly biased piece of reporting….I was appalled at the narrow focus with which you presented the crisis facing our city,” Runner wrote in a lengthy press release.

“A piece on such an important topic should generate a lot of opinion,” said Kevin Tedesco, a spokesman for CBS, in a one-line email response.

Meanwhile, six more people have been killed in Chicago since the start of 2017.

Hal Baskin, a long-time community activist with close ties to the streets is fed up.

“People are tired of losing loved ones. I’ve lost three nephews living in the community,” he said.

In 2013, Baskin’s own son, Hal Baskin Jr., was shot two blocks away from the Peace Community Center where the elder Baskin has served as executive director for decades.

In 1992, Baskin was part of a group that organized a gang truce after 7-year-old Dantrell Davis was killed by a stray bullet as he crossed the street holding his mother’s hand.

He is again calling for a closed-door summit that would include some of the old heads.

“You can’t realistically use the traditional way of combatting violence when you are living in a depressed area. You can’t stop the killings if you are not talking to the killers.” he said.

But as evidenced by Runner’s complaint against “60 Minutes”, the connection between the rampant homicides and street gangs feeds a narrative that some Chicago activists find objectionable.


It is OK to talk about unemployment, poverty, and racism as the root causes of the violence, but jaws get tight when you mention single parenting, absentee fathers and street gangs.

Additionally, the push has been to save youth on the edge.

On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city is extending mentoring services to 660 more youth. The additional mentoring services will put the city halfway through its goal of reaching 7,200 boys and young men in high-risk neighborhoods over three years.

Activists like Baskin, who grew up running the streets and now work with people from the streets, aren’t convinced that mentoring programs is the right approach.

“It works good for those young guys who are not involved in gang activity. But what about Junebug on the corner?” Baskin asked

“These young boys know better than to leave home without their guns. They would rather get caught with it than without it,” he said.

Frankly, we need an army of men who have survived the streets to go back lead these young brothers out.

Gary Slutkin, founder of CeaseFire, now known as Cure Violence, and a professor of global health at UIC’s School of Public Health, says the method of employing people who have a criminal past to tamp down violent behavior is beneficial. Slutkin gave the example of moms teaching other moms how to breast-feed.

He has long argued that violence should be treated as a contagious disease. Cure Violence uses trained “interrupters” to intervene in violence-plagued communities.

“Police are extremely adverse with that,” Slutkin said. “But it is not just that (ex-offenders) understand, they are trusted by the people that we have to help change.”

“When we are working with a community group, we map out the various groups and people who need to be reached,” Slutkin said.

We may not agree on how to solve Chicago’s murder problem, but one thing’s for sure, it is going to take more than one approach to get the job done.