Chicago Urban Violence

By Breann Gala

Following a year of national and international media exposure brought on by a particularly pronounced gun violence epidemic, violent crime prevention in Chicago has become a frequent topic of conversation here at the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC). While varied, many of the discussions have focused on determining how can organizations like MPC that are committed to creating competitive and healthy communities can make positive contributions toward the cause of public safety in Chicago.

Hoping to learn more about public safety and forge connections with existing violence-prevention community organizations , a team of MPC research assistants recently attended a Chicago Ideas Week panel discussion entitled “Guns—Solutions and Actions.”

Moderated by civil rights activist Michael Skolnik, the discussion brought together four individuals dedicated to the prevention of gun violence in communities across the United States. Speakers included David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Erica Ford, a sitting member of President Barack Obama’s task force on gun violence and founder of the South Jamaica Cure Violence program; Yusef Shakur, a Detroit-based community activist and author; and Cassandra Murff, an Englewood native and current freshman at DePaul University who has also founded a successful mentoring program for high school girls in her community.

Stemming the tide of gun violence is key if Chicago is to remain a vibrant metropolitan center and global city. While a large number of factors undoubtedly contribute to the cycle of community instability and violent crime, speakers at the Chicago Ideas Week panel said a more properallocation of monetary resources and manpower might, in fact, yield positive results in the effort to build safer communities across our city.

The following are individual reactions from MPC research assistants to the afternoon’s discussion.

Jeffrey Nolish

Event panelists discussed aspects ranging from law enforcement, to the impact of gun violence on youth and people of color, to the importance of therapeutic action and violence interruption, to the role of schools, households and government.

Regional policy and metropolitan planning are equally important. The former offers protection against gun trafficking, a consistent interstate concern for Illinois and Indiana. The latter facilitates placemaking, a collaborative approach to create safe space and attract economic and community development.

Multilayered problems demand multilayered solutions. In the effort to reduce gun violence, whether in Chicago or across the country, let us leave no stone unturned.

Paolo Cisneros

As a Chicago native who grew up in a disproportionately safe pocket of the city’s south side and later in a firmly middle class suburb, the panel discussion was enormously helpful in allowing me to better understand some of the complex sociocultural factors that contribute to the perpetuation of violence in our city.

For those of us who have never experienced the problem firsthand, it can be all too easy to write off the issue as unrelated to our lives. But in hearing the speakers touch on the root causes of and potential solutions to gun violence, I began to see more underlying connections between institutions such as the public school system and the municipal police department when it comes to creating healthy and vibrant communities where no one is forced to focus on their safety at the expense of other facets of their lives. Additionally, I became increasingly aware of the need for further coordination and collaborative efforts between such agencies.

While productive anti-violence work is already being done by dozens of on-the-ground organizations throughout the city, events such as this Chicago Ideas Week panel can be hugely beneficial in prompting all 2.7 million Chicagoans to consider their role in strengthening their respective communities and putting an end to gun violence for good.    

Robert White

It was refreshing to hear no-nonsense speakers who talked frankly about the places and people affected by gun violence.

Perhaps most interesting was the gap between large funders and small organizations seeking dollars, highlighted during the question and answer session. Funding issues undoubtedly limit organizations from increasing their scope and being revolutionary. Large funders want good management and transparency, while small organizations don’t necessarily have adequate resources.

­­In order to shift programs to a larger scale, groups will have to find a way to bridge that gap, without sacrificing the local flavor of smaller organizations and community-led programs. At MPC we believe coordination and cooperation on issues between public, private and community partners are important and can lead to powerful, lasting change.   

Jamie Makatche

“Hurt people hurt people. Oppressed people oppress people.”

After hearing these words from Yusef Shakur, my first reaction was to separate people into two categories:

  1. Those who are hurt/oppressed, and
  2. Those who are NOT hurt/oppressed

This dualistic way of looking at violence allowed me to quickly put myself in the NOT hurt/oppressed category, relieving me of any responsibility.

But after contemplating what was shared from the panel, I realized that I actually do play a role in the perpetuation of violence. By distancing myself from these issues, I have effectively condoned this collective pain and oppression.

In order for these cycles of hurt and oppression to stop, people like me (and organizations like MPC) need to take action.  We need to do a better job of recognizing the inequalities that exist and working towards common solutions.  It won’t come easily or quickly, but it’s time for us to start demanding change.

Conclusion

MPC has been an advocate for healthy, livable communities for decades—primarily by advocating for better transportation, housing and infrastructure policies. While we are not experts in public safety, there is a strong relationship between public safety and the foreclosure crisis, economic development, community infrastructure and other issues that are central to MPC’s policy priorities. At this point, MPC is meeting with leaders in the public safety realm and exploring how we may positively impact the growing violence epidemic.

Photo Credit: Chicago and Gun Violence/shutterstock