How Can We Save Chicago Kids From Spiking Gun Violence? ‘We Need All Hands On Deck,’ Mediators, Activists Say

By October 1, 2020News

In this article, author Maxwell Evans discusses the rise of gun violence happening in Chicago and how it has caused many families to fear for their children’s’ lives. As of September 20th, forty-five children younger than 18 have been shot and killed, with 280 being wounded by gun violence. Based on the data by the Chicago Police Department, that is, unfortunately, an increase in cases of children either being wounded (84) or dead (18) around the same time frame last year. One of the main reasons behind this surge is the increase in violence within neighborhoods across Chicago. Research suggests that, regardless of age, situations of gun violence typically start with an altercation and escalate due to the presence of a gun. At that time, shooters do not take the proper time to think of the consequences of their in-the-moment emotional reactions. According to Kim Smith, director of programs at the University of Chicago’s Crime Labs, it is difficult to determine whether youth victims are “unintended targets” or “shot intentionally by their peers.” However, there are many scenarios that an altercation can eventually escalate towards. Along with advocating for the protection of children, the article also mentioned finding ways to reach younger and older adults. Over the past decade, 89% of homicide victims were adults, with young adults (18-24 years old) being the most at-risk of being killed. By the time they reach that age group, school services for their families and after-school programs are no longer an option. As mentioned by Kim Smith, violence in Chicago is a “generational and multifaced” social problem that is need of many resources for different age groups.

Across Chicago, many community leaders have largely agreed that efforts from residents and advocacy groups from all perspectives need to be heavily involved to find solutions for this social problem. According to Tio Hardiman, executive director of the non-profit Violence Interpreters program, he states that “city and state leaders need to bring people to the table and start funding new groups because we need all hands-on deck.” In Chicago, there have been street-level mediation groups such as Violence Interpreters and Cure Violence that has built relationships with at-risk residents through mentorship and intervening in potentially violent situations. They focus on providing these services for neighborhoods that are “most challenged” or considered “gang hot spots.” Hardiman mentions how making a personal connection with troubled youth is key and that mentors from these programs need to be empathetic yet direct with their mentees. Also, there are programs like Choose to Change where they combine mentorship with cognitive-behavioral therapy. This program has reduced violent crime arrests among participating youth by 48% and looks to help 2,000 youth avoid impulsive behavior by 2022. These programs are great for directly confronting the issue of gun violence and impacting young adults by creating solid relationships with them, which significantly decreases the chance of violent behaviors.

With Chicago Policing and street-level efforts operating in isolation and lacking in solutions for long-term change, Mayor Lightfoot looks to continue to shift away from a law-enforcement-first-and-only strategy and hopefully invest in all form of interventions (education, primary and secondary interventions, and building resilient communities). City officials have given $400,000 grants to “priority communities” on the South and West sides of the city, which is part of the $11.5 million commitment towards violence prevention this year for Chicago. As well as another $10 million being invested in CARES act funding which will go towards the city’s prevention efforts. However, cities such as New York, who has 5 million more residents but recorded 200 fewer murder this year, has invested $34 million on gun violence prevention programs within the past year. Thus, this has led violence prevention groups in Chicago to “repeatedly call for Chicago to invest more.” City and state officials must invest in violent prevention programs in our communities, as well as support systems for kids (family services, mental health services, and after-school programs) at school. Some examples include Becoming A Man (BAM) and Enlace Chicago, which are amazing programs that provide health services for students in-and-outside of school through mentorship, counseling, and aid assistance. Becoming A Man offers one-on-one counseling and support groups for at-risk high school students during school hours for Chicago Public Schools. Enlace Chicago offers mental health services to students at multiple school levels (Elementary, Middle School, and High School) and organizes violence prevention groups across different gang-affiliated neighborhoods (ex. Little Village). Along with Enlace and BAM, there are many other programs that can be implemented within our school districts and communities that can help significantly decrease violent behaviors within our youth and provide health and family services.

Gun violence is a social issue that affects many lives across different cities and states in the country. With many neighborhoods struggling with shootings due to poverty, gangs and drugs, and violence every day, it is very disheartening that our youth are often the ones who have suffered the most. Instead of investing in getting children “bulletproof backpacks” or focusing-on on law-enforcement-first-and-only-strategy, we need to address this “generational” issue by working directly with youth in troubled communities. However, it is up to city and state officials to heavily invest in these programs by providing them with more funding and available resources. It is also crucial for school districts, such as CPS, to implement services and after-school programs across all their schools to consistently provide resources to all students. With numerous resources and services provided directly to youth and their communities, this could significantly be key in decreasing gun violence and creating a safer environment for our youth in the long-term.

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