We need a viable witness protection program

The biggest deterrent for any one committing a crime is the fear of being apprehended and punished


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Rev. Ira Acree

 Let me say for starters, that a mass shooting at a funeral home is beyond ridiculous and disgraceful. At least 15 innocent people were shot on July 21 while mourning the loss of a loved one, and this is unacceptable.

It seems like no place is safe on the West and South sides of Chicago. I eulogized Amaria Jones a few weeks ago, a 13-year-old girl who was gunned down while dancing for her mom in their living room.

Nothing is sacred any more, and no one is off limits for this generation of shooters. They have become so emboldened because they have concluded there will be no consequences for their action.

That's why I'm calling on Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx to begin the task of establishing a viable witness protection program immediately.

The county has a victim witness assistance program, but it is simply not effective. The one thing that would radically reduce the violence right now is improving the city's abysmal homicide clearance rate. When murderers know they can commit a crime and the percentage of them getting caught are slim to none, it emboldens them.

A witness protection program is worth the expense – if it helps rescue us from this current state of lawlessness in Chicago. If there is no consequence for one who murders, the pattern will continue and the violence will continue to escalate as it has.

In our current context, people are afraid to report the perpetrators of crimes because of the fear of retaliation. I'm in the neighborhood, and many decent people often say they want to report the shooters but they don't believe the city, county or federal government will protect them.

Our real challenge in solving crimes is not breaking the code of silence, but it's actually breaking the culture of fear. Once again the way this could be immediately addressed is by putting the needed resources into a witness protection program that people can trust and believe in.

People need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when they turn in a cold blooded murderer they will not be left alone but will have protection and resources to safeguard them, and access to financial resources if relocation is necessary.

State's Attorney Foxx can make a difference by championing this initiative. The biggest deterrent for any one committing a crime is the fear of being apprehended and punished. This fear is nonexistent in Chicago.

I along with other ministers in my network who have eulogized many of these victims and counseled families are also urging Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and the Cook County Board of Commissioners to provide the needed resources to make this happen.

We will pay either on the front end or the back end. On the backend, you pay with lives lost and lawsuits; the front end is better, and it's imperative that we make the investment now.

Rev. Ira Acree is pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin.

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