So far this year, there have been 226 murders in Chicago and 1,020 shootings. On the long weekend around the Fourth of July, 72 people were shot in Chicago and 12 of them killed.
By any standard, gun violence in Chicago remains at an alarming level, with residents continuing to worry about the conditions in the nation’s third largest city while questioning whether anything can be done to affect long-term change.
The issue is receiving renewed scrutiny from local residents, civic associations, elected officials and even the Congressional Black Caucus, which is conducting a series of forums in Chicago on Friday and Saturday.
To hear some officials and activists tell it, there is a continued state of alarm among Chicagoans who are dispirited about the chronic level of gun violence, particularly in the city’s largely African-American and Latino neighborhoods in the city’s South and West Sides.
The Chicago Police Department insists that conditions have become more favorable. They point to the fact that crime in the city fell 8 percent in the first quarter of 2013 compared with the same period last year and 15 percent from the first three months of 2011.
“Anytime you have a continued high rate of murders, I don’t see how anyone can feel that things are getting better,” said Malcolm London, a 20-year-old teaching artist with Young Chicago Authors, in an interview with BET.com.
“There are a lot of organizations here that are doing great work to address the problem,” London said. “But the city is not doing a good job at all. They are closing schools and cutting the services that would help young people to make different choices in their lives.”
The issue of gun violence has drawn both President Obama and Michelle Obama to return to their home town to discuss the topic publicly. The first lady spoke at the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old high school student who was shot and killed a week after performing as a majorette at the president’s inauguration.
The level of gun violence has become so alarming that a number of elected officials, including Democratic members of Congress, have convened the “National Summit on Violence in Urban Communities,” hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.
“We’re not going to save every life or change every life around. But people want to have hope, they want to feel that people care about them,” said Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Chicago, one of the hosts of the summit, speaking on MSNBC. “I don’t want it to be just talk. We need to come up with solutions.”
Will Burns, an alderman who represents Chicago’s South Side, said that there are already effective solutions to the problem of gun violence in the form of after-school programs and affordable housing for low-income residents. However, he said, the challenge is in getting such initiatives funded, particularly in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives in Washington.
“I think the problem can be solved and that we can break up concentrations of poverty,” Burns said, in an interview with BET.com. “We can invest in programs that reduce gun violence and it can be done at the local level. The issue is developing the political will to demand that resources are put into programs that we know are effective.”
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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)