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The Center Square: Community activists demand Chicago’s violence be treated as public health emergency

Illinois Legislature Chicago Mayor
Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson, right, discusses an upcoming anti-violence charity basketball tournament with tournament organizer and former Chicago Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah at the Illinois State Capitol office of House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Springfield, Ill.

(The Center Square) – Community activists are calling for action after 11 people were killed and dozens wounded in shootings throughout the city of Chicago over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Reports in Chicago indicate more than 50 people were shot since Friday. Eleven had died from their injuries related to the shootings. 

On Thursday, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson spoke about the importance of keeping people safe during the holiday weekend. 

“With Memorial Day marking the start of summer in Chicago, it’s crucial that our city puts forward a comprehensive public safety strategy, including vital investments in our city’s young people,” Johnson said. “My administration’s top priority is building a city where every single resident feels safe, and in order to do that, we need everyone at the table.” 

Among the youngest victims over the 72-hour period was a pair of 2-year-olds who were shot in separate accidental shootings that took place on the South and West Sides on Saturday, with both incidents stemming from the victims discharging a weapon they were playing with. Both are expected to survive, with one being hit in the forearm and the other in the hand.

In Calumet Heights on Monday, another three people were wounded in a shooting where one of the victims was a 77-year-old man. Hit in the back, he is now listed in critical condition at the University of Chicago Medical Center, along with a 57-year-old woman who was struck in the head.

Tio Hardiman of the community group Violence Interrupters said many in Chicago feel they have no choice but to turn to violence.

“The violence is all over the place in Chicago, and that goes to show you that there is no rhyme or reason,” Hardiman told The Center Square. “Some people just believe that violence is the only way out for them.” 

City officials have tried different programs in an effort to curb violence in Chicago, including the implementation of a “peacekeeper” program. However, one of those workers involved in the program was recently arrested for robbery. 

Hardiman said these issues need to be addressed on a personal level. 

“If we do not address this epidemic of gun violence as a public health emergency or a public health issue, we may miss the opportunity to really change the landscape overall,” Hardiman said. 

Hardiman suggested getting jobs for young people who have turned to violence to curb criminal activity and said that police policy needs to be adjusted. 

“Put it like this, some of the policies with law enforcement need to change,” Hardiman said. “You can not chase anyone in the car. You can not chase people on foot. Those policies need to be reversed.” 

Chicago Police statistics show 73 shootings over the last seven days, which is an increase of 36 compared to this time last year, and overall crime is up 42% compared to last year.

State Rep. Martin McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, last week put out a travel advisory for his constituents. 

“I am advising my constituents from Lake, McHenry, Kane, and suburban Cook Counties who value public safety to be fully aware of the issues before entering the city of Chicago,” McLaughlin said. ““The news related to crime coming out of Chicago each week is awful and heartbreaking. For any hardworking Illinoisan with an expectation of public safety and criminal prosecution, Chicago is no longer the place for you. Carjackings, muggings, retail theft, and assaults are all up in Chicago.”

McLaughlin said the advisory isn’t a condemnation of the “great people of Chicago,” but rather a call to action for city leaders and Gov. J.B. Pritzker to bring about solutions to the incidents of violent crime.