Daley holds summit on Chicago violence

April 25, 2008 6:35:08 PM PDT
Mayor Daley held an emergency summit Friday in response to the recent spike in gun violence in the city.

The toll from the gun violence around the city has been troubling for the mayor. In the past week, 40 people have been shot and 12 of them have died. The mayor blames the availability of guns for contributing to the violence.

Daley has instituted an earlier curfew. He has even pleaded with parents to be more responsible about their children and where they are. He has even continued to canvass neighborhoods and continued to ask for stiffer gun laws but to no avail. Mayor Daley said Friday he is going to hold this City Hall summit in order to be able to stop the violence.

Even as he welcomed the British-American business conference to town, Mayor Daley remained concerned about the gun violence that continues to both plague and taint the city.

"Why is it that younger people, at younger ages, are having difficulties or challenges and all of a sudden take a gun and fire a gun?" said Daley.

Police, school officials, religious leaders and community activists have been summoned to City Hall for what amounts to an anti-gun violence brainstorming session.

With little fanfare, the people to whom citizens turn when they're scared came down to City Hall. Heading in, the mayor pleaded for the themes of his summit to be repeated throughout the city.

"We have to really get the conscience of everyone, just awareness of our children and responsibilities. That's what we're trying to look at," said Daley before the summit.

In the wake of shootings that have Chicago worried that an uptick in violence ought to be expected with springtime temperatures, participants said the city is no more violent than usual and anti-violence programs are working.

"The weather's warming up, things have happened in this city all along," said Bruce Wellems, Back of the Yards. "As I listen to those statistics, not to panic, that's the basic thing in my heart, to continue the good work. There's a lot of good things out there that people haven't reported."

One anti-violence group, whose state funding has been cut, hopes to change the mindset on street by getting out its message at night.

"CeaseFire will be meeting tonight out at 71st and Damen with about 75 community residents and people to go out and talk to the guys and try to train them in the areas of conflict resolution, the need for more conflict resolution here in the city of Chicago because in order to stop violence on the front end, you have to know who got into an argument an hour ago or yesterday, or you ave to know who's into a gang conflict," said CeaseFire's Tio Hardiman.

"Government must do its part. As most people appreciate, you can't protect every child and every person, every hour of the day. I wish with we could. Every parent, loved one, extended family, every adult must do their part. I know it is not an easy job, we all know that a responsible adult can make a critical difference in a child's life. I'm concerned that we live in a society that seems to downplay the importance of parental or adult responsibility," said Daley, following the summit.

Residents living with the violence say simple disputes are now ending in deadly gunfire in their communities.

In recent years, Mayor Daley has taken the lead role in blaming the death and injury on the easy availability of handguns. Conflicts that used to be settled with a fistfight now end in gunfire.

Chicago's seventh police district, Englewood, last year had the highest number of violent crimes in Chicago. And during the first three months of this year, it ranks first or second for the number of people injured or killed by gunshots.

"You can get killed walking to the store, saying you stepped on my shoe, touching a girl," said Xavier Doby, Englewood resident.

"Just the other day I was driving down the street and I blew the horn at somebody, and he showed me a pistol so I just kept going," said Jimmy Russell, Englewood resident.

Longtime residents there say they don't know who lives in their neighborhood anymore. Englewood, with rents as low as $650 a month for a two-bedroom apartment and plenty of Section 8 opportunities, is now more of a stopping off place for the city's poorest residents. Dan Norman, who's lived on South Marshfield 38 years, says the newcomers have a different idea about settling simple disputes.

"They run and go get guns, now. We used to fight. Now they get guns," said Norman.

Hood says many new residents relocated there from gentrifying Chicago neighborhoods and brought their old gang affiliations with them.

Police will attempt to discourage shootings in Englewood and elsewhere in the city this weekend with an increased visibility, including patrols by heavily armed SWAT teams.

The Reverend Hood says a better way to stabilize Englewood would be to improve job and housing opportunities for its residents.

"Over saturating the community with SWAT is most likely going to turn the community against the police and that's what we don't want," said Hood.

Despite the highly publicized shootings during the past week, we should note that in Englewood, the raw number of violent crimes is actually down seven percent from the same period one year ago.

The City Hall summit comes after a week of violence. So far, 40 people have been shot in Chicago, a dozen fatally, most recently including five people murdered in a South Side home. This may cause some of Daley's critics to question if the timing of the meeting was meant to stop any possible damage to Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Daley says no.

"I'm not worried about the Olympics. It has nothing to do with the Olympics. Just as a quality of life for people in communities. There has to be an outrage, outrage by people living on a block," said the mayor.

Community activists and CeaseFire member Rev. Robin Hood wasn't invited to the mayor's summit but says any plan has to include the whole community.

"There needs to be a summit with the heads of all the old gangbangers. There needs to be a summit with people in the community, local school council, principals, schools. There has to be a summit that includes every area of our community, because that's the only way we're going to push this violence out of our community," Hood said.

Mayor Daley said he didn't expect any miracles to come out of this summit, simply ideas that will help move forward the concept of stopping the violence in the streets and the use of guns to settle disputes.

The spike in violence has been particularly challenging for new police superintendent Jody Weis, but he points out that the overall numbers indicate that this year's numbers are no more violent than in past years.

"It is hard to judge anybody in one weekend. I think you have to look at the long run. Will there be spikes in violence? Probably that will happen. But a lot of this was attributed to some gangs that were having a conflict over turf. Over time we will be in that area with full force," said Weis.

Weis is also ordering additional police officers -- including SWAT teams and police helicopters -- to neighborhoods plagued with gang and drug violence. The department also plans to institute nighttime roll calls in those neighborhoods.

There have been crime summits in the past, and opinions differ as to whether they produce just political show and tell or real strategies that end up reducing violent crime.

Criminologist Dennis Rosenbaum, who's spent years analyzing and advising on the subject, believes that summits can be meaningful if they take a big picture approach and if there is follow-up.

A young mother who went through a horrific loss many years ago is inclined to agree with that.

Dantrell Davis was 7 years old - killed by a sniper's bullet in October of 1992 - while walking to school from his Cabrini Green apartment. There was tremendous outrage.

And there was a summit - not without controversy - that led to some policing strategies focused principally on crime in public housing.

Fifteen-and-a-half years later, Dantrell Davis' mother fears that violent crime, even with lower numbers, has become a bigger problem, and that any summit solution has to be broad-based.

"We as parents have to step up. We can't just keep blaming the police and putting it in their hands," said Annette Freeman, Dantrell Davis' mother.

"Violence is a very complex social problem. It has many causes; it's not a simple answer, and if we take one approach ? a law enforcement approach, a school approach, public health approach - we're going to miss part of what the problem is," said Rosenbaum.

Rosenbaum, a UIC criminologist, says crime summits can be useful if they bring different disciplines together, and if there's follow-up. Rosenbaum is part of a University of Chicago-based team that earlier this month launched a project to identify some root causes of violent crime among youth. Part of the solution, he says, will be to focus on health care, keeping kids in school, and identifying neighborhoods and families at risk.

"If we integrate those services and stay focused on the families and neighborhoods that need the most help, we could have a substantial impact on crime over time," said Rosenbaum.

"They have to start going to PTA meetings. They have to start going to organizations, like Inner City Youth Foundation, finding something worthwhile for their kids can join in. It starts at home," said Freeman.

It is, of course, not clear yet what those taking part in this new summit will recommend. No doubt some of what'll be said is part of the blueprint that this new team of researchers has just started working on. And they are to come up with some recommendations in four to six months.

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