How to Help
Experts estimate that up to 80 percent of gunfire shootings involve
the attacker telling others about their dirty deeds. One
gun-violence prevention organization offers an anonymous national
hotline for students and other youth to report weapon threats and
shootings. PAX, a nonprofit group, has received more than 16,000
calls since it began in 2002. For more information, visit
www.paxusa.org or call the hotline at (866) SPEAK.
The war at home, PART 2 of
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis is convinced that the epidemic of child
murders in the Chicago area since last school year is a reflection
of larger socioeconomic problems.
Poverty. Deprivation. Joblessness. Poor
parenting. Frustration. Helplessness. And, even worse,
"We can't keep viewing violence against
children as an abstract issue, disconnected from these other bigger
issues in our society today," says Davis, D-Ill., who's been
battling violence against Chicago youth since the 1970s.
But dealing with those bigger issues
often requires bigger piles of money, Davis says. And while one
pile was recently taken off the table by the state, another pile is
on its way from federal coffers. The question is: Will it be enough
to make last year's child murders an anomaly instead of a
"I have hope it will turn the tide," he
Since last year's first school bells
rang, at least 36 Chicago area youth were killed, the majority of
them Chicago Public Schools students who were victims of
Since then, front-line soldiers in the
city's war against youth violence have clamored that lawmakers need
to loosen up budget purse strings. Since then, one of the city's
most successful anti-violence programs has been stripped of more
than $6 million in state funding, prompting catcalls from the front
lines, from Davis and even the mayor's office.
This summer, Gov. Rod Blagojevich cut
$6.2 million from CeaseFire, an in-your-face, in-your-neighborhood
program that has had success curbing gang and gun violence in the
city. Overseen by the University of Illinois at Chicago, CeaseFire
is based on the belief that violence is a public health problem,
like an infectious disease.
But the governor's office, which
supported CeaseFire funding the past three years, says the public
health program is no longer "a top state priority," according to
Justin DeJong, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Management
"We were happy to help CeaseFire get
established in communities that have struggled with gun violence,
but the intention has always been that the organization would then
develop other sources of support to maintain their operations,"
DeJong says. "There should be more balance among private, local and
Gary Slutkin, CeaseFire's founder and
executive director, remains hopeful, even optimistic, about the
Other city officials, including Davis,
say cutting the funding to a proven public health program like
CeaseFire is a mistake, but maybe alternative funding can be found
Susan Hartnett, a researcher at
Northwestern University's Institute for Policy Research, says her
office is in the final stages of an independent analysis of the
program. Its findings are expected this month. A favorable finding
by her agency would go a long way toward finding another big pile
of money for the program, officials say.
In the meantime, Chicago Mayor Richard
Daley unveiled a new citywide campaign to curb youth
violence. Daley and other city officials announced the campaign in
September at Julian High School, the school of an honors student,
Blair Holt, who was shot and killed in May while riding home from
school in a city bus.
The anti-violence campaign, funded by
$14 million in federal grants, will include expanded after-school
programs for students, as well as converting 40 more CPS schools
into "community school centers," designed to be safe havens for
"When we see a child taken from us,"
Daley said during the news conference, "it's not just a child from
the parents, it's a child taken from all of us."
Fighting the violence on multiple
Blair's mother, Annette Nance-Holt,
told reporters, "If we don't all stand up for what's right and
start telling what we see, then it's just going to keep
Over the summer, thousands of Chicago
area residents have been standing up for what's right, joining
rallies, marches and vigils to address the violence plaguing their
One of those parents was Vernetta
Williams, whose 14-year-old son, Leserick Webster, was found dead
inside a burning van June 16, the victim of mistaken identity, the
She holds out hope no more children
will die. "The violence has to stop somewhere, and it stopped with
In late August, anti-gun advocates such
as the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., founder and president of Rainbow
PUSH Coalition, urged citizens to make their communities "gun dry"
during several prayer vigils across the country.
One local vigil took place at
Barrington United Methodist Church, in the northwest suburb of
Barrington, located in the same city as the largest gun
manufacturer in Illinois, D.S. Arms, Jackson says.
"While some die, others prosper,"
Jackson says in a statement. "Gun merchants and drug growers hide
in the shadows, yet are targeting inner cities."
However, national experts on youth
against youth crimes, such as former public school counselor and
author Helen McIntosh, say it is difficult to "make" anti-violence
happen from the outside in.
Instead of combating external factors
like guns and gangs, the aim should be squarely on internal factors
like early-stage prevention and intervention, says McIntosh, who
penned Eric, Jose, and The Peace Rug, a book aimed at introducing
such preventative techniques to elementary-aged students.
"If we can get to children before they
become enraged teenagers and adults who decide to bully others, we
can put a stop to senseless … shootings," she says.
But those two words-senseless and
shootings-are linked all too often in Chicago, local officials
On Sept. 13, the same day the city
launched its anti-violence campaign, Chicago Public Schools
released a new public service announcement TV commercial.
It shows home-movie footage of
16-year-old Blair Holt playing basketball at his grandmother's
home. Blair instinctively jumped in front of another student when
gunfire went off on that city bus last May.
The PSA shows Blair dribbling the ball
and shooting, a caption stating, "He loved reading, rapping and
It then shows Blair trying to dunk the
ball when the screen fades to black. Viewers instead hear the sound
of a gunshot. "But that all ended on May 10, 2007, when Blair Holt
was killed by senseless gunfire," the caption says.
Finally, over a dark screen, the last
caption echoes what Chicago parents have been asking for an entire
Jerry Davich is a Chicago-area freelance writer.
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