Gun violence is again in the national spotlight following mass shootings over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Chicago also was impacted by gun violence: The weekend was the city’s most violent so far this year, with 55 people shot – seven fatally.
In the wake of those shootings, a group dedicated to studying and addressing the root causes of Chicago’s gun violence spoke about their work Monday at the Health Equity & Social Justice Conference.
“Unfortunately, this is a timely talk,” said Noam Ostrander, director of the Chicago Gun Violence Research Collaborative.
The collaborative launched in 2016 with the purpose of bringing hospitals, universities and researchers together to have an impact on gun violence. A fellowship program was created to support faculty and graduate student involvement in the development of a community-based research agenda.
“The goal is to create a community-driven approach to gun violence and part of that has been community research or listening sessions,” said Ostrander, an associate professor at DePaul University.
Since the group’s launch, they’ve held listening sessions and interviews with 130-150 community members in North Lawndale, South Lawndale, Austin and Englewood. Those communities were chosen because they experienced some of the highest rates of gun violence in 2016, according to Ostrander.
On Monday, the group shared findings from their conversations with individuals involved with Cure Violence, Chicago CRED, Chicago Youth Boxing Gym, Lawndale Christian Health Center and others in the North and South Lawndale neighborhoods.
Among their findings: a lack of investment in Chicago’s youth. “One thing that emerged a lot was leaders were not adequately investing in Chicago youth to overcome adverse childhood experiences. The cycle of violence is reaching them before a gun is in their hands,” said Alice Burgess, a student at Rush Medical College who recently finished a fellowship with the collaborative. These youth often don’t feel like they have a future, she added.
Researchers also found that guns were viewed as sources of power and status symbols. A Cure Violence interrupter said during an interview, “Everything revolves around guns. If you don’t have a gun, you ain’t really s--t.”
“Youth feel hopeless and stuck in communities and felt it was inevitable to pick up a gun,” said Englewood native Terry Williams, a recent collaborative fellow and student in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s master of public health program.
Moving forward, researchers hope to speak with youth and individuals directly impacted by gun violence, including those who have shot others, been shot themselves or been incarcerated.
Community members also discussed the lack of trust between residents and police, the breakdown of the nuclear family and apathy expressed by communities that aren’t impacted by gun violence.
“As fellows, we can’t stop the violence, but we can be a part of (the solution),” said Williams.
While communities will direct the focus of the research, collaborative members believe they can showcase the work of local organizations and help them make connections.
“Lots of community organizations are doing a lot of great work but it’s trapped in silos,” said Burgess. “So many are doing great work but they’re not talking to each other. One solution could be that we create a network of community organizations.”
The collaborative will soon be seeking applications for its fellowship program, which will be open to community members for the first time.
Note: This story was originally published Aug. 6, 2019. It has been updated.