Shot in the head. Stabbed in the neck. Shot in the back. Beaten
to death. Shot in the chest. Suffocated in a burning van.
Bludgeoned to death. Choked to death.
These are only some of the ways Chicago area youth were killed
since last September's first school bells rang.
Fifteen years old, 12 years old, 18 years old, 14 years old, 13
years old, 11 years old.
These are only some of the ages of the victims, a tally of 36
and counting, nearly all of them Chicago Public Schools students
who will never advance to the next grade.
Hyde Park. Evanston. Logan Square. Wicker Park. Englewood.
Albany Park. Blue Island. Humboldt Park. The city's South side,
West side and Northwest side.
These are only some of the locations where these children and
teenagers were slain, eulogized or buried.
Mothers are grieving. Fathers are angry. Educators are
frustrated. Community leaders are vexed. Police are exhausted.
School officials are deflated. Lawmakers are blamed. Yet, what's
being done to stop this from happening again this school year?
"Nothing, we have no political courage," says Chicago Public
Schools Chief Arne Duncan, who has attended many of the victims'
funerals. "This is a local tragedy and a national disgrace, but we
seem to value the right to bear arms more than we value our
children. It's totally heartbreaking."
Duncan and other outspoken gun control advocates say public
policy legislators need to begin dealing with the cause, not the
symptoms, of gun violence, which triggered the deaths of more than
two dozen CPS students.
"It's not like we're looking for a cure for AIDS. We need to
take away guns," says Duncan, a father of two young children. "Will
it take another 36 students to get killed before state and federal
lawmakers realize this?"
Blame shouldn't be aimed at CPS, he points out, which has seen a
double-digit decline in school violence and an 86 percent drop with
guns found in schools over the past few years. "The schools have
never been safer."
Others, like Chicago Police Capt. Jack Murphy, on the front
lines of the city's war on gun violence, say the cultural norm of
accepting and allowing guns, gangs and the killing of children
needs to be changed.
David Cassel, director of the Alliance of Local Service
Organizations, says too many residents are desensitized to what
should be highly sensitive situations. He has seen sidewalk
passersby walk over fresh blood stains of a child slain just a few
hours earlier, not thinking twice about what happened at that
"People in too many communities feel that this way of life is
normal," says Cassel, who lives in Oak Park. "It's not normal."
Calling for a CeaseFire
Hundreds of people who live with such normalcy of gun violence
swarmed Humboldt Park on a sticky, overcast Saturday in late July,
chanting "What do we want?" "Stop the shooting!" "When do we want
Yet just 14 hours earlier in this
community, a 17-year-old boy was killed by a drive-by shooting and
his killer sped away unscathed by police.
This was just one more reason participants took part in a rally
and march against guns, gangs and the growing list of homicides
against youth in their communities-Austin, Cicero, Maywood, Aurora,
to name a few.
Tiny kids hoisted towering posters demanding "Stop. Killing.
People." Tough-looking teens sported white-flag T-shirts pleading
"I want to live." Proud parents used disposable cameras to capture
permanent memories of the historic day.
"We turned a corner today," shouted Gary Slutkin, director of
CeaseFire Chicago, the group that organized the rally, from a
CeaseFire is an in-your-face program that addresses gangs and
gun violence head-on, by employing "violence interrupters," many of
them ex-felons, to talk to young gangbangers, wayward adolescents
and their families. Since 2000, CeaseFire Chicago has intervened in
more than 700 lives, and it has reduced the number of homicides in
most every targeted neighborhood, according to Chicago Police
Slutkin told the crowd that gun violence is like an infectious
disease, such as polio, tuberculosis or typhoid fever, and it
should be viewed as a public health epidemic that can be erased
just like those diseases were mostly erased.
Curing such a scourge of violence and homicide in the city comes
down to funding for his CeaseFire programs, Slutkins explained
later. Three years ago his staff calculated that with $18 million,
CeaseFire programs could lower yearly homicides to about 200, in
partnership with the city and state. Last year the city had 466
homicides and the year before it had 447.
Information you can
What is CAPS?
Your concern about the safety of your
neighborhood shouldn't be met with a sense of powerlessness.
Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, or CAPS, is a partnership
between the police and the community. Based on the idea of
community policing, CAPS "brings police, the community and other
city agencies together to identify and solve neighborhood crime
problems, rather than simply react to their symptoms after the
What's my beat?
To understand how CAPS works (and how
you can fit in), you have to understand how the Police Department
is organized. The city is divided into 25 police districts, each of
which is split into three sectors; each sector is divided into
three to five beats. CAPS operates on the beat level. By dividing
the large city into 281 beats, the police and community can better
focus on very local problems. Just enter your address into the
Civic Footprint Web site and you'll find your beat; click the beat
number and you'll find your district number.
I want to know more about crime in my
Now that you know your district and
beat, you can look at the crime that has occurred in your beat.
Chicagocrime.org downloads every crime from the Police Department's
Citizen ICAM system and maps it. You'll be able to see when and
where everything from theft at a grocery store to homicide was
I need to report a crime now
You should always use 911 to report a crime in progress, but if
you'd like to make an anonymous call regarding crime in your
neighborhood, the city has a number of hotlines in place. Find the
complete list of phone numbers on the city of Chicago's Web site
tailored to everything from illegal possession of firearms
(877-CPD-GUNS) to locations involved in drug trafficking
Currently, Slutkin's organization receives roughly $6 million
from the state, $4 million from the city and $1 million from
private and federal sources, he says. Plus, because of the
program's success rate at its first 14 sites, several elected
officials are beginning to buy in to the CeaseFire techniques in
"In other words, an additional $10 million from a combination of
city and state sources would go a very long way toward putting most
of this problem behind us," he says.
Parents need to start parenting
State Rep. Elga Jeffries admits she doesn't have the answers for
curbing gun violence or the cultural acceptance of urban warfare.
But she also didn't mince words when she spoke at the same
CeaseFire rally about one of their root causes-poor parenting.
"What's wrong with us?" she yelled into the microphone. "Parents
have got to start parenting. We can't sugarcoat that."
Several parents in the crowd said too many children come from
violent, chaotic and neglectful homes and they have little chance
of escaping their cyclical fate as violent, chaotic and neglectful
"It's a vicious circle that abuses every generation of our
society," said Carmelo Martinez, a mother of three from
Earlier in the summer, Democratic presidential candidate Sen.
Barack Obama made headlines when he spoke to parishioners at Vernon
Park Church of God on the city's South side. He preached to the
choir of local family victims, saying, "Our playgrounds have become
battlegrounds. Our streets have become cemeteries."
But he made at least one enemy in Joyce Mitchell, the
grandmother of 13-year-old Schanna Gayden, who was shot and killed
by gang crossfire on June 25. Mitchell says Obama made repeated
calls for her attendance that day, but when she tried to discuss
"the issues" with him at the church, he brushed her aside.
"He used me as a prop for his speech," she says angrily, noting
that he pointed her out in the crowd. "We don't need more sound
bytes, we need sincere support from our elected officials."
Rita Sallie, Schanna Gayden's mother, has her own solutions on
how to curb gun violence, after thinking about it daily since her
daughter's murder in Logan Square.
"We have to hold the parents of these young criminals
responsible," Sallie says. "We have to give these parents jail time
and a fine, to send a message to other parents that they need to do
a better job of parenting."
Sallie isn't just talking the talk. A few years ago she found
marijuana in her oldest daughter's bedroom and she immediately
called the police on her. Police didn't arrest her daughter but
Sallie sent a message: I'm a parent first, a friend second.
"The streets have more influence than most parents do, and
that's a shame," she says.
Sallie also echoed what other parents have been pleading for
years: City and state lawmakers need to stop using the killings of
children as a political platform or photo opportunity. Instead,
they need to secure funding for existing programs and better
"They know what they need to do. They just aren't doing it."
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