When a mother who lost a child to gun violence speaks, people tend to listen. And listen they did when one mother shared her story at Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin’s summit on gun violence held June 13 at the University of Illinois Chicago.
After her son was shot to death in 2008, Forest Park resident Brenda Hale wrote a poem that she then sent to President Barack Obama.
“Though I cannot find you, I want you to see/you took more than my son, you took part of me,” a portion of the poem reads.
Hale is far from alone. Many other Cook County residents have had family members injured or killed in shootings.
From Jan. 1 through June 14, there have been more than 1,100 shooting victims in Chicago, including 91 in Austin, according to data compiled by the Chicago Tribune. Nineteen people have been killed in Austin – Chicago’s most-populated neighborhood – since the beginning of the year, according to Red Eye’s Homicide Tracker.
More than a dozen panelists — including aldermen, law enforcement officials and community activists — joined a packed audience to discuss gun violence and Boykin’s seven-point plan to fight it.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was invited to the summit, Boykin said, but did not attend.
Here’s the plan’s key elements:
- offering parenting workshops,
- strict enforcement of of curfew laws,
- expansion of drug courts and other therapeutic court models,
- charging people who pull the trigger and their conspirators as domestic terrorists,
- expanding sheriff’s deputies roles in high-crime areas within Chicago city limits,
- stiffer penalties for illegal firearms
- and expanding buy-back programs and job training in areas with high crime and poverty.
While many agreed without much debate to most of Boykin’s plan, the domestic terrorism point sparked considerable dissent.
Some blamed the lack of mental health resources for the gun violence problem.
“When I look around, I know the person who’s pulling the trigger of a gun is not in good mental health, and those who are affected by the shootings are not in good mental health,” East Garfield Park resident Milton Johnson said.
Still, several others rejected the idea of labeling community members as domestic terrorists.
“I work every day with the youth — the people that you just called terrorists — I work every day with them” said Clifton McFowler, a BUILD Chicago member and ex-con. “And I don’t see terrorists in them; I see our kids that need some guidance, some support.
“So, I take offense when you call my kids ‘terrorists,'” McFowler said.
However, Boykin’s plan is not without its supporters.
Newly elected Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) spoke about the need for increased law enforcement resources to help enforce curfew violations.
“We have ideas present,” said Taliaferro, a long-time police officer. “How do we expound upon them and make them better?
“And I appreciate the idea of increasing the size of the curfew enforcement team, but it has to be within, of course, we have to make it part of the the city’s budget, as well, and bring that to our mayor’s attention — that this is something that’s important to our community and our wards and our districts within the city of Chicago — so that we can begin to reduce the violence and stop these senseless crimes,” Taliaferro said.
A few days earlier, during a June 10th committee meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner John Daley offered his support to charge people as domestic terrorists in order to receive federal money to help combat the problem.
“You have referred to it as ‘terrorism,’ commissioner, and I totally agree,” Daley said.
Throughout the summit meeting at UIC, Boykin asked people look at his plan as a “holistic approach” to solving the gun violence problem and not single out individual points they may disagree with.
And for those who do differ in their ideas on how to approach the issue, Boykin offered this:
“If you don’t support (the domestic terrorism) part of the plan, I ask you this: What is your plan?”