Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Sept. 22 speech at Malcolm X College designed to announce a three-pronged, comprehensive plan to reduce crime in Chicago has elicited a range of reactions among West Side residents, most of them dismissive of the mayor’s address, which came as Chicago continues to dominate national and international headlines for its gun violence crisis.
As of Sept. 24, the city had registered 530 murders — more than 470 of them involving shootings, according to DNAinfo. In Austin, the city’s largest community area, at least 50 people have died from gunshots, the overwhelming majority of them between the ages of 18 and 35.
The three West Side community areas of Austin, Garfield Park and North Lawndale account for at least 100 of the city’s shooting murders, or nearly one-fifth of the total shooting deaths in Chicago.
Emanuel said his comprehensive plan includes a focus on enforcement, investment and prevention, with many critics of the mayor’s address noting that the plan is too heavy on enforcement and too light on investment and prevention.
Indeed, around two-thirds of the mayor’s roughly 40-minute speech was dedicated to laying out various policing measures, decrying the state’s and the country’s lax gun laws and scolding the “evil and seduction of” Chicago’s gangs (with Emanuel mentioning the Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings and Vice Lords by name).
The meat of what the mayor called his “comprehensive solution” to the “complex problem” of gun violence in Chicago is a plan specified by CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson a few days prior to the mayor’s speech that calls for the hiring of nearly 1,000 additional police officers over two years.
The mayor also said millions of dollars would be invested in gunshot tracing cameras that will be installed “in the most violent police districts” in order to help officers respond more quickly to shootings and provide stronger evidence leading to convictions. Emanuel said more money would also be budgeted to equip all officers with body cameras and to offer officers better training in conflict resolution.
Along with calling for stricter gun laws, greater regulation of gun sellers and tougher sentencing for repeat violent offenders, Emanuel argued for more lenient sentences for those who commit non-violent, relatively minor drug offenses.
The investment and prevention aspects of the mayor’s plan were, as critics have noted, less expansive and less expensive than enforcement. For the most part, the mayor outlined the battle for the souls of the city’s young people who live in its toughest neighborhoods as one pitting good role models and mentors against gangbangers and drug dealers.
“We have a simple choice,” Emanuel said, adding that the city’s young minority men will either be welcomed as family, and trained by, gangs or they’ll be welcomed and trained by mentors. The mayor cited President Barack Obama’s My Brothers Keeper initiative and the Chicago-based organization Becoming a Man (BAM) as models for reaching out to young minority men at-risk of falling prey to gangs and gun violence.
“Many of the gun crimes committed in our city are being committed by young men with gang affiliations and many of the victims of gun violence in our city are young men with gang affiliations,” Emanuel said. “They’re mirror images of each other. To have any chance of stopping them from killing each other and innocent bystanders, we have to stop them from giving up on themselves and their future.”
Among Emanuel’s announced investment in the area of prevention is a $36 million to provide every 8th, 9th and 10th grader in the city with universal mentoring. The program would be funded, in part, through private companies such as People’s Gas, Bank of America, Exelon and Jimmy John’s.
If the intended audience for Emanuel’s address were the people who live in the communities most affected by the city’s gun violence, the feedback from various West Side residents like Denise Ewing suggest he may have missed the mark.
Ewing, who was among several people who said they hadn’t watched the mayor’s address, was sitting on her porch in Austin on Sept. 23 as a press conference happened across the street. West Side clergymen were announcing a $2,500 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever murdered 15-year-old Steinmetz student Demetrius Griffin.
Griffin was apparently shot on the weekend of Sept. 10 not long before his body was discovered burned and stuffed into a trash can inside of a West Side garage. The teenager, Ewing said, was a frequent porch guest of hers.
“These kids are getting killed and nothing is really happening,” Ewing said angrily. “I’ve stood in the middle of a gun to keep one young man from shooting another young man. I had called the police. Do you know how long it took for them to get here? About 40 minutes.”
Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and a member of the Leaders Network, the West Side clergy organization that was offering the $2,500 reward, said the mayor’s plan puts too much emphasis on police measures.
“It’s unfair for anybody to put the onus on the police alone to fix the problem,” Acree said during last Friday’s press conference. “You can’t just lock them up and throw away the key. This has been a collaborative failure of multiple institutions.”
Alderman Emma Mitts (37th) said she missed the mayor’s speech because of a monthly community meeting she had to attend.
“I wasn’t going to leave my community just to hear a speech,” Mitts said. “I want to see some action. Action needs to be taken.”
Mitts said when she met with Supt. Johnson to hear about the department’s plan to hire more officers, CPD brass couldn’t tell her how the officers would be dispersed across the city.
“I don’t care how many you put on the street,” she said. “Where are they going to be at? Why can’t they put them in the high crime areas? That seems like the right thing to do.”
At the time the plan was announced, a CPD spokesman said the department would add officers to high-crime areas and “fill vacancies in districts in communities across the city.” Johnson said that, currently, the city “can’t pull officers from the safer communities into the more violent ones. Gang members will figure that out and shift their operations.”
Rev. Marshall Hatch, the pastor of New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Garfield Park told WBEZ reporters that the mayor’s speech lacked details on economic development.
“Not a lot of money to talk about economic investment, especially when we can talk about the way TIF funds are used to create investment opportunities,” Hatch said.
“The same kind of influence the mayor is using to get corporate leaders to give money for jobs for youth is the same kind of influence that we could use to say, ‘let’s begin to build in under-served areas,” he noted. “I pastor in West Garfield Park. It has the least permits for construction of any community area in the city. It also has one of the highest crime rates. That’s called correlation.”
Austin resident George McKinley said he has an open mind about the effect of the mayor’s plan to hire additional officers — an action McKinley said the mayor has to take, anyway.
“He’s gonna have to increase officers because he has police leaving the force,” McKinley said. “It may help, but it may not. It depends on the attitudes of the officers who are hired. But this is really bigger than the police.”
In the meantime, Ewing said she’ll wait to see if the mayor’s plan offers any immediate improvement to the stresses of her daily life, but she’s not holding her breath.
“What’s adding more police going to do? What’s the purpose? We still going to have to wait 45 minutes for them to arrive? There was another killing over here,” Ewing recalled. “I was calling  because this man was coming out of the truck with a gun. This man had a gun. By the time the police got here, somebody was dead.”