CHICAGO | Reinvestment in struggling neighborhoods — from educational opportunities to jobs to health care access — could give young people a sense of hope and help stem violence plaguing Chicago and other cities, according to those who attended a summit Friday on urban violence.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus sponsored the "emergency" summit, held at Chicago State University on the city's South Side, and said they would prioritize the suggested solutions as they look for ways to create opportunities.
"We want to examine the methods and best practices that we can implement," said U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, a Chicago Democrat.
She said the summit was convened because of "the unbelievable bloodshed" in Chicago streets this summer. City officials say homicides are down from last year, but acknowledge that media coverage and the ongoing gun violence has put a spotlight on the city. That included the high-profile slaying of a 15-year-old Chicago girl about a mile from President Barack Obama's Chicago home just days after she attended inauguration festivities in Washington.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the issue of gun violence is national, but said he was glad the caucus brought the summit — which he called "long overdue" — to Chicago.
"If we're going to do what we need for our city, for our nation, we have to work together to make sure we get there," said Emanuel, who stressed "common sense" gun laws and more spending on jobs for youth. He also said that parents and police have a role to play in stopping violence.
"This is not just about fighting crime, it's about finding opportunities for our kids and our families," Emanuel said.
Lawmakers, clergy, academics, neighborhood organizations and the public broke into discussion groups to talk about the causes and solutions to domestic, youth and gun violence and gang crime. They were to deliver their suggestions to lawmakers at a town hall meeting later in the evening. Some said that children in neighborhoods with chronic violence feel hopeless and assume they're going to be shot someday. So they don't envision a different life for themselves.
Karol Mason, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department's office of justice programs, said another problem is that black youths are disproportionately kicked out of school or end up in court compared to white students who commit the same infractions.
"This must change, and we must be the ones to change it," said Mason, who said the Justice Department is trying to reduce minority contact with the juvenile justice system.
Ronald Webb, 48, moved to Chicago's Englewood neighborhood nine years ago, and said he clearly sees the effect that the foreclosure crisis and lack of youth activities has had. But the Portland, Ore., native and personal chef also said he was shocked by the generations of families living in poverty because of a lack of opportunity.
"I really see inequality as being one of the major causes of violence," he said. "It's sad, but ... for some it's a means of survival, unfortunately."