After more than 100 people were shot in the city of Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that his administration is treating gun violence as a “public health crisis,” and that he is committed to investing in a wide variety of resources to address the situation.
A group of anti-violence activists and community leaders, including Ja’Mal Green, Early Walker and Jahmal Cole gathered Wednesday in front of Chicago police headquarters to call on Pritzker to declare a state of emergency after the rash of weekend shootings, which left 16 people dead and dozens more wounded in the city.
“We are in a state of emergency in our neighborhoods, and we need some help,” Green said. “You cannot decrease violence using force, or by investing more into the police department. We’re already spending more than $2 billion a year on the police department, not including misconduct and overtime. What we’re asking for today is real investment in urban neighborhoods so that we can save our babies.”
Green and other activists criticized the approach taken by the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, saying that the resources Pritzker can bring to bear as governor would help more effectively combat the gun violence that has hit the city hard.
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“It is clear that city leadership cannot handle this problem. It’s clear that they need help, and it’s clear that we need support,” Green said.
Cole, the founder of “My Block, My Hood, My City” and a declared candidate for next spring’s 1st District Congressional primary against incumbent Rep. Bobby Rush, called for federal intervention as well, pushing for Congress to close background check loopholes and to allow the CDC to investigate the impacts of gun violence on communities.
“Gun violence is the leading cause of death among children and teenagers in the state of Illinois. That shouldn’t be the case,” he said. “To increase public safety, we need jobs with thriving wages, affordable housing and public mental health services.”
A spokesperson for the governor says that he is committed to treating gun violence as a “public health crisis,” and highlighted investments that the governor’s office has made to try to address the situation.
“Since day one, his administration has significantly increased funding for violence interruption and prevention programs,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “His first year in office, Gov. Pritzker increased investments in these programs by $50 million. This year’s budget invests $128 million in violence prevention programs.”
Ald. Anthony Beale of Chicago’s 9th Ward presented a three-pronged plan that includes violence interrupters, along with a deployment of the Illinois National Guard to help with law enforcement actions downtown so police officers can be deployed into communities.
“I reached out to the governor about bringing out some of the National Guard because we have to get a handle on it,” Beale said. “The numbers you see are war numbers. We have to treat it as though we’re at war with these gangbangers and drug dealers hurting out communities so much.”
The governor’s office says that looking for solutions in only select areas, including increased law enforcement spending and other measures, won’t work to quell gun violence, and instead officials are seeking to invest in a more “comprehensive” way.
“Treating gun violence as a public health crisis isn’t just about addressing the cycle of gun violence at the end. It’s about investing in education, human services and communities that have been left out and left behind,” a spokesperson says. “The state of Illinois is committed to a comprehensive approach to gun violence by investing in programs that provide pathways to good education, careers and safe communities, and the governor continues to serve as a partner with the philanthropic community, city and county governments tasked with the same charge.”
Rev. Michael Pfleger says that the idea of calling gun violence anything other than a “state of emergency” is short-sighted, pointing to the fact that nearly a quarter of the shootings that took place in the United States over Fourth of July weekend occurred in Chicago.
“A quarter of the shootings took place in this city? And we’re not calling it an emergency? Yeah, there’s a state of emergency,” he said. “We have 15 areas in the city that are the most violence. Mayor (Lightfoot) and Governor Pritzker need to meet with them and find out what we can do.”
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown praised the city’s officers for “doing their part” during the weekend.
"I am truly proud of their efforts over the weekend," Brown said as he emphasized the removal of 244 illegal guns from city streets, more than 80 arrests for possession of such guns and at least 10 murder cases solved. "They risked, literally risked life and limb all this weekend for what was an extremely challenging weekend in this country for American policing."
Brown continued to challenge questions surrounding the rising crime in Chicago, placing blame, as he has repeatedly done, on court systems - a narrative some area officials have since questioned.
"There are too many violent offenders and too little consequences in our courts," he said. "There are too many illegal guns in our city and too little consequences in the courts."
It's a concern that has been heavily cited by both Brown and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot as the coronavirus shutdowns impacted courtrooms.
But Cook County's Chief Judge Timothy Evans argues his bail reform efforts are working and that the vast majority of those released from jail do not re-offend while awaiting trial.
"Bail reform ... is based on the constitutional principle that people should not be punished by imprisonment before they are tried," he noted, pointing to a previous internal report and a Loyola University study which concluded that "bail reform has kept hundreds out of jail, while not contributing to a rise in crime."
But a different report, from the University of Utah Quinney College of Law, came to a very different conclusion.
"We find that contrary to the study's suggestion of stability," the Utah authors write, "the number of crimes committed by pretrial releases appears to have significantly increased."
Professors Paul Cassell and Richard Fowles said their study concluded Cook County had used flawed methodology in reaching their conclusions that crime in the county had not increased. Among other problems, they argue the county based its "before" period during an especially violent time in Chicago, and that those studied after the reforms were implemented were not followed for the same length of time as prior offenders.
The Utah study concluded that after bail reforms were implemented in Cook County, the number of released defendants charged with new crimes increased by about 45%, and those charged with new violent crimes went up by about 33%.