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“Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer”

Roll out those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer,

Those days of soda and pretzels and beer.

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,

You’ll wish that summer could always be here.

Nat King Cole, 1963

Although a month early by the calendar, Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of summer and even though more spring like than summery this year, another kind of heat was felt in Chicago. On cue, gun violence spewed fire and lead in that city’s largely minority occupied south and west sides. Police reported 35 people wounded and seven killed over the holiday weekend.

Incredible as it might seem, that wasn’t as bad as last year’s toll when 52 people were wounded and 13 killed, bolstering President Donald Trump’s much maligned characterization of such senseless violence as “carnage”. The following weekend, as if embarrassed by the Memorial Day weekend’s low toll, the masters of violence upped the ante, wounding 52 people and killing ten. Victims, largely collateral damage of gang warfare or wanton mayhem, ranged from toddlers to grandparents. They died in public places, cars or front yards.

Newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot, with barely two weeks on the job and always of serious mien, appeared stunned. Nevertheless, she smoothly stepped into political mode and called the violence "unacceptable”. It wasn’t as though she went where no other mayor had ever gone before; she was merely seeking breathing room. Unable to crack down on the perpetrators of violence, she decided to spank the cops. She announced Accountability Mondays when police commanders whose precincts had experienced violence would be hauled on the carpet to explain what’s going on and what was being done about it.

To her credit, Lightfoot is extremely knowledgeable about the Chicago Police Department. She has served as president of the Chicago Police Board and chaired the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, which negotiated police reform with the Justice Department. Still, familiarity with bureaucratic administration isn’t the same as actual street operations knowhow. As a matter of fact, those reforms butted against operations leading Mayor Rahm Emanuel, her predecessor, to famously say that police had gone “fetal” as a result of onerous stipulations on how to perform their job.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson is walking a fine line. An Emanuel holdover, he must suspect Lightfoot is looking around for her own appointee; a quite natural occurrence in any change of administration. A career cop who came up through the ranks, Johnson is torn between looking out for his officers and the politics of the job. He has labeled the violence “despicable” and attributed much of it to gang rivalries over turf and drugs, plus guns that are far too easily available. His assessment could use a societal component but isn’t that far off the mark.

In 2016, the National Urban League, in conjunction with other urban sensitive organizations, released a study supporting Johnson. Entitled “Strategies for Reducing Gun Violence in America’s Cities”, the study stated: “urban gun violence reflects America’s existing racial and economic disparities.” It said within cities, a small share of places and people are vastly more likely to be affected by gun violence than others because gangs and other anti-social elements proliferate. That’s an accurate description of Chicago’s south and west sides. Inhabitants of such poor black areas are killed at an alarmingly higher rate than their white counterparts.

Another study by the Giffords Law Center Against Gun Violence buttresses the Urban League’s assessments. It points out warm weather brings out more people, especially poor minorities who lack air conditioning. With more people outside there are more interactions and more risks. It shows males between the ages of 15 and 24 are disproportionately victims and perpetrators of gun violence, and many such shootings occur in public places where young people gather. Hence the violence in or near parks and street corners. It estimates the cost of such violence nationwide is about $230 billion annually.

Both studies recommend cities study factors exacerbating gun violence, reduce the supply of illegal guns, improve criminal investigations, establish programs focusing on people and places most likely to be affected, summer internships in the private and public sectors for young people, improve schools and spur economic development.

Of course, it’s not as though such remedies are unknown or haven’t been tried in some fashion somewhere. But in Chicago’s case, it will take a concerted effort with city officials, the business community and community organizations all pitching in. But wait, just prior to Memorial Day, Mayor Lightfoot launched “Our City, Our Safety” intended to alleviate such violence, plus flooded known problem areas with over 1,200 additional police officers. Obviously, it didn’t work. Some experts say such efforts are mere Band-Aids on gaping wounds. They believe unemployment is a major cause of the violence. Yet the perps are usually driving fancy vehicles and seem able to afford expensive weaponry and ammunition while, aside from their gang rivals, most of the adults killed are often hard-working, productive members of their communities.

There are those who are trying to rethink elements of an uber-liberal democratic society to cope with its negatives. To attempt elimination of violence would pretty much mean running a police state, something the vast majority of Americans wouldn’t tolerate and … it’s unconstitutional. Of course gun violence is not unique to Chicago. It’s a national problem, so Gary is not immune to it. Let’s hope Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson isn’t too distracted by her electoral loss and is monitoring the situation, and that mayor-elect Jerome Prince is doing likewise. Meanwhile, the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends are yet to come. Under the circumstances, do we really wish summer would always be here?

Stafford A. Garbutt, of Gary, is a naturalized American citizen and native of Belize. The opinions are the writer's.

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