Suburban residents should urge officials to address Chicago's violence epidemic

I think people have become numb to gun violence in Chicago. It's hard for suburban residents to feel empathy with the victims, even when children and other innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire.

Few suburbanites were directly impacted by Chicago's 762 shooting deaths in 2016. The majority of murders involved gang members on the city's South and West sides. Few outsiders have reason to venture into Chicago's most violent neighborhoods. Media coverage of the violence, heartbreak and despair is so repetitive, it becomes numbing.

I feel bad for the more than 4,000 people shot in Chicago last year. But I didn't personally see any shootings or their aftermath. I never saw blood in the street or heard the wails of distraught loved ones.

It didn't happen in my world. Not along my commute, or along the route my kids take to school. I care about the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago, but it's not like it affects me, personally.

It's not like Chicago's gun violence is going to spread to where I live in the suburbs. I don't grasp the depth of the epidemic because the crisis doesn't directly impact my life.

If state or federal authorities ordered troops to patrol Chicago's most violent streets, I'd watch on TV and probably think, "That's good, but it doesn't change anything I do on a daily basis."

Maybe that's the wrong way to think. I should probably be more outraged and demand officials do more to end the violence. Those responsible must be held accountable.

Let's start with the police. Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in December, 2015. That was a week after the release of video showing a police officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald. The mayor said at the time that public trust in police leadership had eroded and change was needed.

McCarthy is now making the media rounds, appearing on "60 Minutes" and other shows. He told radio host John Catsimatidis this week that Chicago's surge in gun violence was due to Black Lives Matter protesters creating an atmosphere of anti-police sentiment, noncompliance and lawlessness.

Other heads have rolled. Prosecutor Anita Alvarez lost her bid to remain Cook County state's attorney when Kim Foxx was elected. I suppose voters could decide the extent of Emanuel's responsibility for Chicago's violence problem when his term ends in 2019.

While we're pointing fingers, a University of Illinois at Chicago doctor thinks there's a correlation between the spike in violence and the state budget impasse. Here's looking at you, Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder and CEO of the Cure Violence group that operates Cease Fire mediation programs in communities, said he warned Rauner in March 2015 about a potential surge in violence unless $4.5 million in state funding was restored for the intervention program.

"Before the cut, CeaseFire programs were operating in 14 communities in Chicago with 71 workers and averaging 81 mediations per month. After the cut,there was only one full site and three partial sites with 10 workers," the group reported in September.

Districts where programs were cut have seen the biggest increases in violence, CeaseFire reported. There's a direct correlation between state funding cuts and increased violence in Chicago, the group says.

There's plenty of blame to go around. "60 Minutes" reported Chicago police are making dramatically fewer stops of suspected criminals. Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says less aggressive policing is the result of lawsuit threats by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Blame the ACLU. Blame cops. Blame criminals. Blame their parents. Blame prosecutors and judges. Blame Black Lives Matter. Blame lawmakers. Blame the governor. Blame the mayor. Blame guns. Blame the media.

It's no wonder Illinois lost 37,508 people in 2016, the third straight year the state led the nation in population decline. Chicago lost 181,000 black residents between 2000 and 2010. People with the ability to leave violent surroundings do so and migrate to places where there are jobs and other opportunities.

When President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Monday that the mayor should seek federal help to deal with Chicago's violence, an Emanuel spokesman issued a statement suggesting city and federal leaders should work together to address the crisis.

"We agree the federal government has a strong role to play in public safety by funding summer jobs and prevention programming for at-risk youth, by holding the criminals who break our gun laws accountable for their crimes, by passing meaningful gun laws, and by building on the partnerships our police have with federal law enforcement," the statement said.

Maybe the gang members shooting each other and innocent bystanders on the South and West sides would be less prone to violence if they had reason to hope for better educational and economic opportunities.

That's the message the Rev. Michael Pfleger has been preaching for years. The prominent pastor of Chicago's St. Sabina Catholic Church was featured on the "60 Minutes" report and shared the following message Tuesday on his Facebook page:

"There is no question that Chicago is in a crisis, but when Donald Trump offers to fix it, it frightens me. I have long called for a state of emergency — not National Guard, but national resources for schools, jobs, housing, economic development, etc.

"But in the campaign all Donald talked about was stop and frisk and law and order. We don't need a suppressive military approach; we need resources to give opportunity. Perhaps Mr. Trump could begin by coming and asking people in Chicago."

I cleaned up punctuation and capitalization in Pfleger's original post, but preserved the wording of his message.

Look, there's no one person, group or factor to blame for Chicago's epidemic of violence. I believe the natural tendency to assign blame is making no difference in this instance. It's going to take everyone pulling in the same direction and working together to address the crisis.

If city and suburban residents want to help resolve the issue, I think phone calls to their elected officials at the local, state and federal levels could make a difference.

They could tell their representatives, senators and other leaders that Chicago's violence epidemic affects all of Illinois and urge them to make addressing the issue their top priority.

tslowik@tribpub.com

Twitter @tedslowik

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