Bill declaring violence a public health crisis awaits Pritzker's signature

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Pastor Anthony Williams lost his son, Nehemiah Williams, three years ago to gun violence, and that pain fueled his push to have violence treated as a public health issue.

"When it happened, I was just very numb," he said.

House Bill 158 is on Gov. JB Pritzker's desk. It calls for the Department of Public Health and the Department of Human Services to look at how to identify high violence communities for program funding and economic development. Williams said that would get at the root of what's causing crime in many communities.

"The vaccine to deal with violence is legislation. It's legislation that moves the needle in America," Williams said.

Democratic State Representative La Shawn Ford, whose district includes Chicago's West Side, voted for the bill.

"You can have shootings on the West Side, mass shootings and there is no response with mental and behavioral health support for those communities," Ford said.

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Brad Stolbach is a licensed clinical psychologist who focuses on developing trauma informed programs and services. He said in Chicago's most crime-ridden neighborhoods some people are experiencing psychological effects from exposure to violence.

"People who have been directly touched by the violence, it's safe to assume that at least a third of them are walking around with untreated PTSD," said Stolbach, who is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago.

The legislation could help fund organizations like Gordie's Foundation in the Englewood neighborhood, which provides workforce development for ex-offenders. Audrey Wright started the foundation after her son, Gordie Wright, was killed in 1998.

"This was my remedy, putting these trades together where nobody can take those trades away from the young man," Wright said.

Williams said the current approach to reducing crime isn't working.

"We can't continue to live like this. No one is safe," he said.

The bill, which is more than 200 pages long, mainly addresses healthcare inequities. It was crafted by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. Governor Pritzker is expected to sign the healthcare reform package into law.
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