DOWNTOWN — It’s a familiar refrain. Anytime people of color protest against police brutality — as they did across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd — critics of the protests ask why the same people don’t address gun violence in their communities.
They are wrong. Chicagoans routinely organize and protest against gun violence in their neighborhoods all the time, and many are gearing up their activism again after one of Chicago’s bloodiest weekends.
Furthermore, community organizers say many of their critics are missing the point of the protests entirely: They are demanding more community investment, not more policing, to address the systemic issues that lead to violence in their neighborhoods.
Last weekend, more than 100 people were shot across the city. Fourteen were killed, including five children: A 3-year-old shot while riding a car, a 13-year-old shot inside her home, and two teenagers who’d gone out to buy candy.
Community members turned out in Austin Monday night to memorialize two of the young victims, Mekhi James and Amaria Jones.
In addition to grieving their loss, community activists raised reward money to help arrest Mekhi’s shooter, urged residents to break the code of silence and come forward with information, and pushed local leaders to acknowledge how stripping resources from their communities for decades leads to devastating crime.
Here are some of the activists and organizations working year round to prevent violence in Chicago:
Jahmal Cole began his organization, My Block, My Hood, My City, to “take care of people no matter what.”
My Block, My Hood, My City provides jobs to teenagers through youth-led tour programs. Teenagers in the program give “asset-based tours” of their neighborhoods to people from all over Chicago, which Cole said allows them to develop public speaking skills and pride for their neighborhoods.
Cole said the group also works with about 150 students from 10 schools in under-resourced communities and takes them on an educational trip every month to learn about various career opportunities.
“It’s hard to be what you can’t see, so we expose our kids. We take them out of their comfort zones and we expose them to different cultures, different professions, different cuisines,” Cole said.
Cole said he believes gun violence is a reflection of “racial injustice or economic injustice, poor neighborhoods, low-performing schools, high rates of incarceration and unemployment.”
Cole said there is no “copy, paste” solution to violence and each neighborhood in Chicago is different, but he hopes to learn more about “alternative emergency responses” and figuring out how to fund social programs instead of relying on police.
My Block, My Hood, My City held a Peace Walk earlier this month on 79th Street in solidarity with Floyd and other victims of police violence. The organization also gave out 1,000 meals to residents who attended the march.
Cole called on people to combat neighborhood violence by showing up and giving talent and time.
“If you want to reduce violence, you just got to pretty much show up. You got to show up. And if you’re not willing to walk into a nonprofit and say, ‘How can I help?,’ you’re probably part of the problem,” Cole said.
Arielle Maldonado, co-founder of the Healing Corner, said the group is focused on providing resources and support to families on the West Side. The Healing Corner was founded in 2015 after a shooting interrupted a prayer vigil.
The organization grew from a gathering on Division Street and Keeler Avenue to members fostering conversations with current and former gang members, Maldonado said. The group still meets at corners of the city known for violent incidents, passes out free food and other resources, and begins discussions around violence.
Now, the organization is also working to stay in touch with families in the community.
“We’ve met a lot of families that we’ve basically focused on keeping in touch with and maintaining relationships with and mentoring those children and taking them out to do activities … — just supporting them with necessary needs like anything from food, clothes, birthday gifts, Christmas gifts,” she said.
While the coronavirus pandemic has stalled the healing corners, Maldonado is hoping to host a small “grab and go” event July 3 at Division Street and Pulaski Road.
Maldonado said people who comment on social media about a lack of protests and action around gun violence have a “really shallow understanding of the core of the issue.”
“Some people are saying that it’s not enough, that it’s just going to continue, but I feel like if everyone could mentor one youth, it would save a ton of lives,” she said.
Mama’s Of the Movement organized a rally in Washington Park in response to police violence in early June. Activist Tanikia Carpenter told Block Club the march welcomed children and supported Black motherhood.
“Whether a child dies of police brutality, or a grown man like George Floyd, that’s still somebody’s baby,” Carpenter said. “When he called out for his mom, all of the moms felt that. This is our response. We are here, we are present. These are our Black babies dying in the street.”
Mama’s Of the Movement also presented a list of demands, including requiring police officers to have four-year degrees, community training and racial reconciliation training.
More than 160 local organizations received funding this May from the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a philanthropic network, to aid young people and prevent peak gun violence during the summer.
One of the organizations that received funding is Culturally Helping and Making Positive Success, known as C.H.A.M.P.S. The program mentors Black and Brown young adults by holding events like weekly virtual mentor calls on Zoom.
“It’s more important than ever that we connect our youth with caring mentors,” said Chief Operating Officer Gavin Lamb. “We really appreciate the Chicago Fund’s flexibility and desire to put resources in the hands of those organizations working to meet the needs of our communities this summer.”
After three people were killed over the span of three days in Chinatown and Pilsen earlier this year, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) announced plans to bring together community groups to reduce violence in his district.
Sigcho-Lopez said neighborhood groups like St. Paul’s Parish and Pilsen Neighbors and local schools worked together to formulate plans.
Hundreds of young athletes shut down Columbus Drive Downtown to play in a huge basketball tournament to reduce violence throughout the summer.
The tournament is part of anti-violence program Hoops in the Hood, which gives young people ages 8-19 the opportunity to play basketball to stay safe and occupied. Bulls alumni Bob Love and Mickey Johnson joined the tournament.
Mothers Against Senseless Killings took over the corner of 75th Street and Stewart Avenue in Englewood, which had long been plagued by gun violence.
The group, led by founder Tamar Manasseh, has stood vigil since 2015, transforming a once-neglected, violence-plagued corner into a place where sidewalk chalk meets smoke-filled grills. Their vigilance led to a drop in violence on the corner.
The group has also built a pop-up school and routinely holds programming for youth on the corner.
Black Chicagoans were harassed by some people in Latino neighborhoods amid looting and vandalism after the killing of Floyd — but organizers and local leaders quickly partnered to bridge the divide and promote peace.
At a rally at UIC Forum, a coalition of Black and Latino leaders aimed to spread a message of unity. The same night in Pilsen, organizers of a peaceful protest aimed to show solidarity with Chicago’s Black community after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Then, people united at another rally under the 26th Street arches.
There’s already been changes: A coalition of Latino organizers formed the Brown Squad For Black Lives, and a Black and Brown Unity food pantry was held. Black Lives Matter banners were also put up at Little Village’s iconic arch.
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