Dozens of people filled the Austin Town Hall June 4 to share their stories about how the recent spike in gun violence has affected them.
For more than two hours, residents took turns making impassioned pleas to Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin and each other, asking for help and solutions to end the deadly wave of violence that has swept over many of the city’s West and South Side neighborhoods.
Data collected by the Chicago Tribune shows there have been 906 shooting victims across the city between Jan. 1 and May 26. As a result of those shootings, 169 people have lost their lives —the greatest number (13) in Austin, according to DNAinfo.
Those statistics show there’s a “public safety crisis” and a “state of emergency” for the city and county, Boykin said.
The fear of violence has gotten so bad, said Austin resident Janell Colbert, that even her 7-year-old son suffers from “shell shock” after hearing about a shooting in front of a relative’s home.
Colbert told the crowd about the pain she has endured after seeing the “terror” on her son’s face.
“I was angry; I was so upset because my son was mad … about something that us adults have control over,” Colbert said. “We actually have control over what’s going on in our community, but we refuse to do what we’re supposed to do.
“He knows when he sees teddy bears on the ground, somebody got killed. When he sees the helicopters, he knows something is going on.”
Boykin said he has a plan that will help end the violence and “war zone” environment.
“There is no more pressing issue confronting our city, confronting our county than the issue of gun violence,” he said.
“Our children deserve to grow up in neighborhoods where they can thrive. They shouldn’t have to dodge bullets on the way to school or on the way from school. That is unconscionable in a civilized society.”
His seven-point plan includes:
- parenting workshops,
- strict enforcement of curfew laws,
- expansion of drug courts and other therapeutic court models,
- broader use of sheriff’s deputies in high-crime areas,
- stiffer penalties for people illegally in possession of firearms, and an expansion of gun buy-back programs, and
- job training and a real jobs program for areas with high levels of violence, unemployment and poverty.
One point has already drawn criticism from some local residents: charging shooters and co-conspirators with domestic terrorism.
A recent Austin Weekly News story highlighted some of the concerns over taking such a drastic approach to reduce gun violence.
However, Boykin said there is no difference in his mind between an operative working for the terrorist groups ISIS or Al Qaeda, and gang members terrorizing 95 percent of a community.
The level of fear these gang members creates warrants such extreme measures, Boykin said.
“The label of ‘domestic terrorism’ is appropriate in this case because that is exactly what they are,” he said. “A terrorist is someone who wants to control, coerce, destabilize communities by any means necessary.”
While Boykin would not address specifically how he plans to fund any of his initiatives, he stressed the seven points need to be a priority and seemed hopeful that money could be found somewhere.
“We find money for wars, we find money for things that are important to our leaders, and so we ought to find money so that we can end this gun violence in Chicago,” he said.
Boykin will host a joint county-city summit on gun violence 10 a.m. June 13 at 10 a.m. at the University of Illinois Chicago in Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted St. Members of the public and elected officials are encouraged to attend.