Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (D-1st) has proposed an ordinance establishing the appointment of a Cook County gun violence czar and the establishment of a Cook County Gun Violence Task Force.
Boykin made the announcement at a press conference held outside the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, 2121 W. Harrison St. He was surrounded by relatives of gun violence victims, local law enforcement officials, faith leaders and representatives from various social service organizations.
“This is a problem that touches all areas of society. It is a drain on our budgets, on our hospitals, on our courts and jails. It is a drain on our economy, costing [Chicago] $2.5 billion last year,” Boykin said, referencing University of Chicago Crime Lab data.
According to the proposed ordinance, the gun violence czar and task force “will serve as an investigative and fact-finding body with the objective of recommending a set of policies to the president and County Board designed to reduce gun violence in Cook County over a period of six months.”
The nine-member task force — which the ordinance notes will comprise members appointed by the Cook County board president, the Cook County state’s attorney, the Cook County sheriff and the chief judge of the county’s circuit court — will hold public hearings chaired by the gun violence czar.
The hearings — which will take place “over a period of time not to exceed six months” — will gather testimony and data from a variety of professionals about the “economic, social and cultural causes of gun violence” in the county and will “culminate in a written set of policy recommendations […] designed to reduce gun violence in Cook County effective January 1, 2016.”
Boykin pointed out that the county’s rash of gun violence is concentrated in certain neighborhoods inhabited largely by low-income, minority residents. He said a gun czar would be a way of focusing resources on communities that have typically been ignored governmental entities.
“For example, on July 1, Cook County awarded $800,000 in violence prevention grants to four organizations—not one cent went to communities like Austin, East and West Garfield Park and Lawndale,” he said. “Austin leads all 77 neighborhoods in terms of homicides. These are the [most violent communities in Chicago], but none got any money.”
Boykin also addressed the disparate racial effect of the city’s gun violence, citing Cook County Medical Examiner reports that break down the violence by racial demographics.
“Despite being only 25 [percent] of the City of Chicago, the Cook County Medical Examiner reports that 80 [percent] of those killed by gunshot wounds in 2015 have been African American,” the proposed ordinance notes.
“Specifically, in 2015, year to date, there have been 259 deaths from gunshot wounds, and 207 of those deaths were African American.”
But Boykin, as well as some of his supporters, also noted that the county’s gun violence problem isn’t isolated to Chicago; that it’s a problem for Cook County suburbs as well.
“The statistics [Boykin] spoke of aren’t just reflective of Chicago; nationally, those type of issues spill over into vintage communities like Maywood,” said Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley.
“People sometimes make the mistake of assuming that Oak Park, as an overall affluent area, is not going to experience the kind of gun violence that happens in other neighborhoods,” said Shawn Schreiner, the rector at Oak Park’s Grace Episcopal Church, before referencing recent shootings in the area.
On Sunday, July 12, two people were killed and three were injured, including two police officers, in a shooting at a home in River Forest. In Oak Park, three men were charged with mob action, among other charges, after allegedly firing several shots in a park during the early morning hours of July 15. And most recently, on July 21, a shootout erupted between two men in Oak Park near the corner of Austin Boulevard and Madison Street at about 11 p.m., leaving one man hospitalized.
“Sometimes desperate measures take a desperate stance, and it may mean someone in a position who can oversee the problem and who has the responsibility to pay attention to this specific area,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner also called attention to what she said was the problem of white privilege. She said, as a “person of faith,” she feels compelled to speak about the huge discrepancy in the prevalence of violence between white and minority neighborhoods.
“As a person of privilege [who is white], I rarely have to think about what will happen to me when I walk down the street or whether I have enough food to eat. … This is not just a political issue; it’s also a faith issue and if we don’t stand up and say, enough is enough, who are we as Christians to really speak for ourselves and for anybody else?”
Boykin didn’t specify how a gun czar would be funded, how much it would cost or whether or not his fellow board commissioners, in addition to Board President Toni Preckwinkle — with whom he reportedly has been at odds — are in support of the ordinance.
“It took President Preckwinkle just three weeks to call a special meeting from the time she announced that she wanted a sales tax increase. I would hope she moves with the same urgency [on this ordinance],” Boykin said.
Boykin recently voted against Preckwinkle’s proposal for a 1-percent sales tax increase, which the board nonetheless passed July 15 by a vote of 9 to 7. Boykin said he’ll present the ordinance to the board at its next meeting on July 29.