CHICAGO—If there were any indications that Chicago was in a state of emergency, it was the bloody July 4thweekend that claimed the lives of 12 people and injured 72. That was the exact weekend that three congressmen from Chicago said, “enough is enough,” and called an emergency summit to bring forth concrete solutions to tackle the city’s crime issue.
As the nation’s third most populous city, Chicago’s violence epidemic has become a national issue over the last year, and this month garnered the attention of the Congressional Black Caucus, who backed an “Emergency National Summit on Urban Violence” Friday at Chicago State University on the South Side of the city. The summit was convened by Congressmen Bobby Rush, Danny K. Davis and Robin Kelly, a staunch gun control advocate who won her 2nd Congressional district post, replacing former embattled congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Kelly, whose congressional campaign was heavily backed by gun-control advocate New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said she and her fellow Congressional Black Caucus members sought to gain a better understanding of why Chicago and other areas have so much violence. After brainstorming ways on how to make Chicago and other areas safer, Kelly said she wants to use Chicago as a “launching pad” for a national plan of attack on gun violence.
“With all due respect to Newtown and Arizona and the mass murders, we need to have voices for the urban areas and for urban violence,” Kelly told a crowd of about 200 people Friday afternoon and later repeated to a crowd of about 500 at a town hall meeting.
After President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have visited the city several times to address the issue, one where Mrs. Obama attended 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton’s funeral, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy boast a 24 percent decline in murders from last year this time. While some credit their new “comprehensive crime reduction strategy” to the dip in homicides, others credit a cooler than normal spring and early summer. Chicago police said as of Wednesday, there have been 226 murders in the city, down from 299 in 2012 the same period. Shootings dropped to 1,020 from 1,346 last year.
Emanuel, who called the summit “long overdue,” shared personal stories of offering alternatives to violence and used the moments he spoke to the crowd to push his gun control agenda. “If we’re going to do what we need for our city, for our nation, we have to work together to make sure we get there,” Emanuel said, adding that “common sense” gun laws are crucial.
But Chicago residents recognize this scene. Rush acknowledged that he called a similar summit at the same university 10 years ago. Countless other summits, meetings and rallies have convened that resulted in little to no action. Organizers admitted to not having all of the answers. And the basic needs of communities ridden with violence remain the same as they were a decade ago.
“We had many summits…now it’s time for wise men and women to stand up and show us how to get out of this mess,” Rush said charging the crowd.
“There’s no panacea” to fixing Chicago’s violence issue said Davis. “It’s poverty, school closings, lack of good educational opportunities, lack of jobs, parenting and a need to rebuild infrastructure.”
Other Congressional Black Caucus members from across the country attended, including Representatives Maxine Waters of Calif., Cedric Richmond of La. and Corrine Brown of Florida.
Waters stressed the need for jobs, showing young people love and urged Emanuel to get more involved personally in the neighborhoods of Chicago and work harder to stop the flow of guns to the streets.
The prominent congresswoman, who worked with former President Bill Clinton to decrease crime in her district in the nineties, also proposed enacting a street gang treaty initiative in Chicago to address the gang-related gun violence that plagues the city. “Peace treaties are done by gang bangers and people who are doing the shootings, who are involved in gangs and when they get involved with their leadership…you’d be surprised the impact that it has,” Waters said.
In addition to treaties, summit participants recommended community policing, urban development, and education initiatives for the city to address the violence epidemic.
Newly elected Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason of the U.S. Department of Justice vowed to take solutions back to Washington. “Enforcement alone is not the answer alone to violence,” she said, adding that there must be prevention, intervention and re-entry programs for people who have been in the prison system. Additionally, Mason said an overt racial disparity in the justice system must be addressed.
The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, who consistently leads non-violence initiatives in the Chicago area and across the country, noted that, “In the past six months, more than 1000 people have been wounded or killed as a result of gun violence.” Jackson called for a development planner across urban America, more protected coverage for voters’ rights and a revival of the war on poverty.
“We are in an urban emergency,” Jackson said. “Invest now.”
Renita is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung