This story produced by the Chicago Bureau. The close of 2012 focused so narrowly on terrible events and startling numbers – the Newtown massacre, for example, or Chicago’s sharp rise in homicides – some major criminal justice developments were nearly squeezed out of the national conversation. Take the statements made just over a week ago by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who vowed to take on the tricky issue of the skewed racial picture in the county’s corrections and justice system, including within the juvenile justice system. Speaking to a group of reporters, the news – including a statement that she will “work with the actors in the public safety arena” to lessen the overall corrections population and push alternatives to locking up non-violent offenders – the story got little more than a day’s play on the airwaves and in other media. Always outspoken, the board president served many years as an alderman fighting for various social justice causes, including race and drug issues (she at one point challenged the validity of any national “war on drugs”).
Ambitious and certain to draw criticism, President Barack Obama’s plan to rid the nation of the most powerful weapons on the market and attempt to arrest mass and everyday shootings was expected by Congress Wednesday, marking a sharp turn in a decades-long fight to curb America’s gun violence. As the debate was playing out in Washington, several local and national leaders gathered at the University of Chicago Tuesday evening to discuss guns and policy, with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose city holds the dubious “murder capital” title, among the group and pushing sweeping gun control legislation that cracks down on assault weapons. Also on the panel was Democratic political consultant David Axelrod, who this week said that the National Rifle Association’s recent assertion that Congress would not enact the sort of change that Obama and others were pressing, was off base. In fact, he said, real legislation will squeeze through the legislative process and signal real change in the nation’s laws and gun dialogue. Also in attendance was the head of the University of Chicago CrimeLab, who noted that while the United States has managed to improve its count of more common crime – property theft, etc.
CHICAGO — It was rare news in a summer filled with frightening crime statistics, equally alarming headlines and a mayor and police superintendent on the defensive: For the month of July, killings in this city were down 11 percent from the same period last year, with the number of homicides for the month at 49. But such news matters little to people like Shirley Askew, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side, whiling away days playing in the streets and city parks. And it means little when the overall homicide rate for the year is still up nearly 27 percent. Many children are scared; they’re kept indoors, and, in a very real sense, locked out of their childhoods. Now 59, with four sons and four grandsons, Askew indeed worries about the increasing neighborhood violence that threatens local children’s safety. Just Thursday afternoon, not far from where Askew spoke with reporters, two 16-year-old boys were gunned down and another wounded.
Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hosted a congressional briefing on the 2011 documentary film “The Interrupters.”
Sponsored by the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, the briefing featured statements from Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and a panel discussion featuring Alex Kotlowitz, the producer of “The Interrupters” and author of the book “There Are No Children Here.”
“The Interrupters” focused on Chicago’s CeaseFire movement, a grassroots project in which members of communities seek to reduce acts of youth violence through localized, concentrated intervention programs.
CeaseFire employs “violence interrupters,” community members who work with youth in high-violence areas, to pinpoint and prevent potential crimes before they transpire. Two “violence interrupters,” Cobe Williams and Ameena Matthews, were present at the ACLU’S briefing in Washington, D.C.
The event drew the attention of a diverse group of attendees, including high school principals, public health officials, law professors and congressional staff. Congressman Scott hailed the Youth PROMISE Act — proposed legislation that would provide funding for comprehensive, community-based intervention programs, such as CeaseFire — as a potential means of curbing street gang activity and juvenile delinquency. The Youth PROMISE Act — officially titled the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act — would provide funding for evidence-based practices regarding the prevention of juvenile delinquency and gang activity. The bipartisan-sponsored bill would also amend the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 by creating a Youth PROMISE advisory panel to aid the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Tallying Chicago’s violence during the first half of 2012, including a 39 percent jump in murders, it can be difficult to get what criminologist Tracy Siska is talking about. True, the streets are bloodied by gang warfare, said Siska, head of the Chicago Justice Project, an independent, non-profit research group that analyzes criminal justice data. The numbers don’t lie; there had been 260-plus murders through the end of June, up 72 over the same period last year. And overnight Tuesday, two girls 12, and 13, became the latest child victims of the gunfire here. Neither were thought to be intended targets, but rather were victims of errant gunfire just days after the release of a University of California Davis study showing the prevalence of stray-bullet victims.
But Siska has argued much of the media is playing the hype game, skewing reality for Chicagoans or observers by screaming with headlines about more city children getting murdered this public school year than any year since 2008 – the first full year of the recession – and countless stories of overnight mayhem suffered in many Chicago neighborhoods. There has been a parade of stories – ones Siska would agree should and must be told.