What’s at the Root of Chicago’s Violence? A State Lawmaker, Pastor Weigh In

It was a national story, and a grim milestone: 75 people shot in a single weekend in Chicago – the city’s deadliest in 2018. But as the Chicago Tribune reported Friday, in the vast majority of those cases, no charges have been filed.

With midterm elections on the horizon, some activists wonder whether city officials are doing their part to help all of Chicago – especially South and West Side communities plagued by gang-related gun violence.

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State Rep. La Shawn Ford, who represents Illinois' 8th District covering parts of Chicago’s West Side, and the Rev. Anthony Williams, a longtime activist and pastor of First Congregational Church of Berwyn who lost his son to gun violence earlier this year, plan to embark on a statewide listening tour to address the city’s violence problem.

“The goal is to make sure that we get people in to hear their thoughts,” Ford said of the tour. “We need to make sure that we provide the people with the information to cope with this crisis. Violence is an epidemic and people should know how to deal with it. The whole community suffers from the trauma of violence. If we approach it as a health issue, then we understand that violence can be eliminated.”

Below, more highlights from conversations we had with Ford and Williams.

On the root causes of Chicago’s violence:

Ford: I would think the root cause of violence in Chicago is the inequity in funding for communities. As it relates to economic development, educational opportunities and also the funding to make sure that people who are not traditionally college-bound have opportunities to be successful in other areas of life. Most communities have people that go to college, what you’d call workers, as well. Well, it’s very difficult in the city of Chicago for black people to be in that new column “worker” category because those are city, state and county jobs, police and fire – and we know those numbers are dismal. So the black communities, where the violence is, you see the lack of those opportunities.

Williams: I think because of Chicago’s historic relationship with violence – from Al Capone to MS13. There is just something in the DNA of Chicago that attracts abnormal behavior. But that is about to change.

On what can be done to address the violence:

Williams: Education. All of our institutions need to eternally look within and ask the question: “How violent are we?” Violence isn’t just stabbing, shooting and beating. But violence also works very subtly in human behavior. You can be violent in your actions towards yourself or someone else. What we’re attempting to do is educate.

This is a public health issue. If there’s something in the air or something in the water. If there’s something that affects all of our humanity, then we need to educate people in order that we might heal as sufficiently as we possibly can. We need to educate people. We need to work in collaboration. It’s very important that entities and people and institutions are working together. Civility. Violence has taken us way out into left field and right field. Civility means we can agree to disagree. No civilization can exist with this type of abnormal behavior becoming normal behavior. And lastly, redirecting resources as it relates to the issue of violence.

On Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

Ford: When you see Rahm Emanuel speaking mostly about being a world-class city, that’s awesome, but that deals with technology at another level and it excludes people.

What the community is saying:

Ford: They want to make sure that vacant and abandoned buildings are treated as opportunities to create jobs and reduce the violence because vacant and abandoned buildings and lots without construction creates a climate of crime. It’s demoralizing to communities and they’re havens of crime. People want their communities to be invested in.

It boils down to a single household. If a single household is healthy and working and vibrant, then you have healthy and vibrant people in that house. Now if you have an unhealthy house that’s not without opportunities and a lot of those unhealthy households in a community, then you’re going to have violence – without a doubt. Healthy communities are vibrant and safe. Unhealthy communities are not vibrant – they’re distressed.

On West Side development:

Ford: It would make sense to have parts of the West Side where violence is – to say, “We need to go and give that community a lift, we have lots of vacant land and we could put Amazon on the West Side.” What’s wrong with Amazon being on the West Side? We built the United Center on the West Side and you’ve seen what that’s done for the community. That community is developing and the owners of the Bulls and the Blackhawks have invested in that community and now it’s safer.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

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