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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

If City Wants Gun Violence To Drop 20%, It Must Invest In Prevention Programs, Activists Say

Though Mayor Lori Lightfoot's 2020 budget increased violence prevention funding by nearly $10 million, organizers say that's still not enough to reach their goal.

Front row, from left: Vaughn Bryant, executive director of CP4P; Eddie Bocanegra, senior director of READI Chicago; Walter McGee, a participant in Chicago CRED's employment program; and Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church hold hands.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH SHORE — Activists called for the city to drastically boost its funding of violence prevention programs Tuesday morning, as they set a goal of reducing gun violence in the city by 20 percent in 2020.

Attendees packed the South Shore Cultural Center’s solarium to hear leaders from Chicago CRED, Communities Partnering 4 Peace, READI Chicago and other groups as they announced their goal.

The coalition’s main focus is getting the city to pay more for anti-violence efforts. Numerous leaders noted the many reasons people can become victims or perpetrators of gun violence, and called on the city to address the problem from all angles.

Perpetrators often lack access to education, mental health help, job training and other crucial social services, said Walter McGee, a Roseland resident and participant in Chicago CRED’s employment program.

McGee’s past life was one on the streets, where he sold drugs and carried a gun to protect himself, he said.

Besides the birth of his son, McGee credits Chicago CRED as the most important factor in his decision to change his ways. Leaving his old life behind took a complete shift in his thought processes, which was only possible through therapy and career training, he said.

If more money was available to the nonprofits filling the city’s gaps in social services, countless others would be able to turn their lives around too, McGee said.

The infrastructure for change is there; it’s now time for action, he said.

“We’ve had so many promises that was not delivered,” McGee said. “The grass is greener on the other side. We’ve just got to hit the fence to get over there, and some people are scared to hit that fence.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2020 budget included $11.5 million for violence prevention efforts, nearly $10 million more than the year prior.

That includes a $6 million “street outreach” program, $1.5 million in “trauma-informed victim services” and the new Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, among other initiatives.

Gun violence costs the city $2.5 billion annually, according to a 2009 University of Chicago study based on an average of 2,500 shootings per year. There were 2,151 shootings in 2019.

New York City — home to about five million more residents, but with nearly 200 fewer murders than Chicago last year— spent $34 million on gun violence prevention in 2019.

Last year, a coalition of Chicago activists called for the city to spend $50 million on violence prevention. Another coalition that included Chicago CRED said up to $150 million was necessary.

Right now, “there’s not enough dollars out there” for nonprofits to collectively address the issue of gun violence, READI Chicago senior director Eddie Bocanegra said.

Plenty of work is already being done through the organizations in attendance, which also included the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Metropolitan Family Services and Heartland Alliance.

By increasing its funding for groups like these, the city is “heading in the right direction,” Bocanegra said — though more must be done.

“The need is too huge, so that means the city needs to come to the table with all these partners and continue to build that strategy,” Bocanegra said. “I think it’s happening, but we’re not going to be able to tell [the effects] until years from now.”

The city must also “break down silos” to ensure community groups have a voice in addressing the city’s violence, said Arne Duncan, Chicago CRED co-founder and former Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama.

“This is a complex issue. We’ve got to do ten things simultaneously,” Duncan said. “We’re at this crisis situation. We need to double down, triple down — if we do that, I would say there’s tremendous hope.”

Gun violence may be a complicated issue for society at large, but it’s also deeply personal for many Chicagoans, McGee said.

At a recent family gathering, McGee’s 12-year-old niece told him she’s not allowed to play in the park near their home. Her dad is afraid one day she’ll be hit by stray bullets.

McGee hopes additional city funding and more effective partnerships between community activists can prevent other kids from having to live under that same fear.

“For her to say that, to be like, ‘My daddy’s scared for my life,’ … that’s just got to change,” he said. “Everybody’s getting on one accord to stop this epidemic of gun violence in Chicago.”

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