The alarming frequency of gun violence in Chicago has made the city the face of what is in fact a disturbing national trend. Just last night, four people were shot. During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, for the second consecutive year, 16 people were killed and an additional 70 received gunshot wounds. Since the start of the year, 188 murders have occurred.
The Congressional Black Caucus has declared a state of emergency and Chicago's three CBC members plan to host a national summit to address it.
"We must not stand silent in the wake of all this violence that occurs not only in Chicago but in every major urban area in this nation," Rep. Bobby Rush said at a Thursday press conference. "We are calling for a National Emergency Summit on Urban Violence that will address some of the causes and outlooks to put an end to gun violence and bring about change in our nation's cities."
The two-day event will take place July 25-26 at the University of Chicago. Congressional lawmakers, legislators from various levels of government, representatives from social, civic and clerical organizations and ordinary Americans are invited to attend what Rush hopes will be just the start of an ongoing conversation.
"We are losing our next generation and we have to do something," she said. "That's what this summit is about."
Rep. Danny Davis cited a woeful lack of resources to employ teens and young adults or keep them otherwise engaged as a significant contributor to gun violence. As a result, he said, the youth unemployment rate is the highest it's been since World War II and the unemployment rate for African-American teens was 43.6 percent in June. Less than 16 percent are employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"When you take away resources, when there are no social programs, no Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, no funds to keep young people employed or deployed — engaged in after-school activities — all of these things contribute significantly. There's no doubt about it," Davis said.
Communities like the ones he represents in Chicago, Davis added, that have all of the "trappings of low income and poverty stricken environments have produced a wave of violence and other forms of mayhem that need a comprehensive [response] and call to problem-solving at all levels of government with serious community engagement."
Texas Rep. Marc Veasey noted that, recently, Ft. Worth has begun to experience a rash of violence. He shared three stories that ended in tragedy at the hands of people who clearly were dealing with mental health issues.
"We need to really get serious about the violence going on in this nation and also about mental illness because it's clear that [there are] many people who have trouble just rationalizing and figuring out their differences the way everyday Americans do when we get upset or angry with each other," Veasey said. "Some of these young people just don't have those coping skills; the first thing they do is turn to violence. We have to be serious about the mental illness piece and making sure that people who don't need guns don't have them."
The lawmakers are not naive enough to believe that the summit will magically solve the problem, but they believe it is a critical first step.
"Over the years, there have been instances when street gangs were a major source of consternation," he said, adding that when the problem has been given intense focus "we've seen the cessation of street gang influence at times."
But as with any problem, he added, it "rises back up" when the attention is taken away. That's a risk, Congressional Black Caucus members believe, that the nation can't afford to take with the rising gun violence problem.
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(Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)