Since I unveiled my Seven Point Plan to reduce gun violence the Tuesday after Memorial Day Weekend, a robust discussion has followed, with particular attention paid to my proposal to charge perpetrators of gun violence with domestic terrorism.
I am heartened by the community debate. I believe that debate has been long overdue.
Discussion of my proposal to charge shooters, and co-conspirators with domestic terrorism has largely centered on concerns about mass incarceration and the disproportionate targeting of persons of color by law enforcement. I believe these concerns and criticisms either overlook or, in some cases, sadly seek to diminish the extent of the public safety crisis that continues to unfold before our eyes.
Mass incarceration and the intersection of race and policing are public policy priorities that are currently being debated at multiple levels of government. I will be doing my part by introducing legislation at the Cook County Board of Commissioners this month to compel cooperation among multiple branches of law enforcement to end the disproportionate number African-Americans that are targets of police motor vehicle and pedestrian stops. Racial inequality in the enforcement of our laws is one of the defining issues of our time.
However, public officials of all races and backgrounds must also come to grips with the reality that gun violence in the City of Chicago constitutes a true emergency. In the month of May, over 300 people were shot in the City of Chicago. 37 of those shootings were fatal. In the first 151 days of the year 2015, 161 people were murdered in the City of Chicago. Since January 1, 2015, 960 people have suffered gunshot wounds in 820 separate shooting incidents.
To put it simply: people are dying at an alarming rate as a result of neighborhood violence.
Much of this violence stems from gang activity. Most observers recognize that the primary purpose of gang activity is to intimidate and coerce residents for the purpose of gaining control of entire blocks and neighborhoods. Gangs seek to control these areas so that they can conduct the business of selling narcotics unchallenged.
How does this differ substantially from criminal enterprises like ISIS, who also seek to control large chunks of territory to further their organization’s objectives?
The answer, under federal law, is that it does not differ at all. Federal law does not require a political motivation in order to bring charges of terrorism- just an intention to use intimidation or coercion through illegal methods to achieve organizational goals.
Of course the federal domestic terrorism statute, like any state or local law, is susceptible to abuse if not carefully applied. But the fact remains that the resources and investigatory tools that accompany a domestic terrorism charge would be nothing but helpful, at a time where our neighborhoods can use all the help they can get.
As American citizens, we all have rights. Chief among them are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The residents of Austin, North Lawndale, Englewood, and other areas beset by violence, have as much a right to live, to freely walk the streets of their neighborhoods, and to raise their children to pursue their dreams as the residents of any other neighborhood. We owe it to those residents to do all we can to protect their safety.
And to those who would take issue with part or all of our Seven Point Plan to reduce gun violence, I ask a simple question: What is your plan?
Richard Boykin is the Cook County Commissioner for the 1st District.