‘It’s Affecting Everyday Life’: Community Leaders Respond to Gun Violence

This story is part of WTTW’s Firsthand initiative exploring gun violence in Chicago.

For decades, Chicago has faced a gun violence crisis – and this year is no different. The city has recorded 414 homicide so far in 2020, according to data from the Chicago Police Department. That’s a 51% increase from the same time period last year. And the number of shootings is up 47% since 2019. 

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On Tuesday evening, 15 people were shot outside a funeral home in the Auburn Gresham community on Chicago’s Far Southwest Side. The shooting stemmed from an earlier gang conflict that killed the man being mourned, according to Chicago police officials.

“The cycle of violence in Chicago, someone gets shot, which prompts someone else to pick up a gun,” Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said. “This same cycle repeats itself over and over and over again.”

But retaliation is only one part of the problem, said the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham.

”We have all of this abandonment to our community,” Pfleger said, pointing to years of disinvestment. “We’ve seen three major stores close over the past three, four months. We’ve boarded up buildings. We’ve boarded up homes. There’s high poverty. Double-digit unemployment before the virus, jumped up higher when people were laid off during the virus. People returning from incarceration with nothing to do, no investment. Lack of food access, lack of mental health.” 

Chicago activist Tamar Manasseh, the founder of Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), says she warned police that the funeral could turn violent, according to posts she wrote Tuesday evening on Facebook.

Brown said police officers were in the area.

“We had two police squad cars there and we had a full [tactical] team in the area and we treat all of our funerals that have any gang rivalry or gang connection in similar ways,” Brown said Wednesday.

“It’s a shame that we have to talk about deploying resources at a funeral,” said Carlos Nelson, CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Community Development Corporation. “I would say it’s the wrong way to even address this. We should really be talking about deploying resources more upstream so that these types of incidences will not happen regularly.”

Meanwhile, residents are fearful for their lives, said Betty Jo Swanson, president of the 79th and Carpenter Block Club and beat facilitator for the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) beat 612, which is near the funeral home where the shooting took place.

“They can’t sit on their front porches, front lawns like they love to do,” Swanson said. “They’re afraid to walk to the corner, to the store. They can’t let their children play out on the sidewalk. So it’s affecting the everyday life of regular residents and things that make a summer fun for the young people.”

The decades of gun violence in Chicago – specifically in Auburn Gresham – has greatly impacted residents, she said.

“We keep running into road blocks, but we won’t give up,” Swanson said. “But it has affected us terribly with all of the shootings, all of the loss of young lives, not being able to reach the young people to make them understand that we need them here, not 6 feet under.”

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