2016 has been a tragic, heartbreaking and infuriating year of shocking and deeply disturbing headlines and pictures depicting an epidemic of gun violence and a law enforcement crisis in Chicago. Consider:
- More than 450 killings so far, up 43 percent from 2015, and nearly 2,700 shootings, up 48 percent. Chicago’s figures in both categories exceed New York and Los Angeles combined.
- Most violent second August week in 13 years, with nine killings and 19 shootings.
- Twenty-seven children 13 or younger shot this summer.
- Nearly two years after the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke, Chicago’s police superintendent finally recommends firing seven cops for allegedly fabricating reports to protect Van Dyke.
- Chicago Tribune reports the U.S. Justice Department hasn’t filed civil rights charges in any of the 72 police-involved shootings of civilians in the past 15 years.
Troubling statistics raising tough questions:
- Why so much violence? Police blame lax gun laws and gang disputes. Other chronic factors include broken families, poor education, substance abuse and a lack of jobs. Also, less aggressive policing by cops afraid of cameras catching missteps.
- Why no federal civil rights charges? One theory: The feds don’t step in until local prosecutors finish investigating, and by that time there may be too few witnesses and too little evidence for a strong case.
- Why firings but no criminal charges against other cops in the McDonald shooting? One answer: The “code of silence”—officers refusing to implicate colleagues, making it hard for prosecutors to conclude that false reports or cover-ups were intentional.
Are there any solutions? While we’re waiting for City Hall and CPD to implement reforms spelled out several months ago in a task force report, including a new agency to replace the ineffectual Independent Police Review Authority, other well- intentioned suggestions are surfacing:
- Veteran Chicago journalist Jim O’Shea, writing in the Sun-Times, encourages CPD to resurrect the Cease Fire program that enlists former gang members and ex-convicts to work with police to curb violence.
O’Shea points to the program’s impact over the July 4th weekend in Englewood last year—no homicides or shootings—compared with 11 shootings this year, after the program was sidelined by insufficient funding and CPD’s reluctance to work with the group.
“City officials and the Chicago Police Department,” O’Shea writes, “seem willing to try anything to stop the violence…except something that actually works.”
- Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck and civil rights lawyer Connie Rice, writing in the New York Times, argue for the kind of sophisticated community policing that’s reduced violence in some of LA’s toughest sections.
Success, they write, depends on communities cooperating with “humane, compassionate, culturally fluent cops who have a mind set of respect, do not fear black men, and serve long enough to know residents’ names, speak their language and help improve their neighborhoods.”
- Former local and federal prosecutor Bob Milan says it’s time for a massive show of force— bring in the National Guard, Illinois State Police and Cook County Sheriff’s Police to help CPD secure the most violent neighborhoods.
“Let’s put an end to this nonsense and take back our streets by any means possible.”
I don’t know if any of those suggestions, alone or together, constitute a solution—perhaps others have better ideas—but I agree with Tribune columnist Rex Huppke, who writes that “I have to believe there are people in Chicago with the money and power and connections and good hearts who could collectively muster the brainpower and resources needed to make a difference.
“Why can’t they come together and organize and attack the problem?”
Five local foundations are trying—they’re offering community-based “rapid response” grants up to $10,000 for new initiatives “that can help make neighborhoods safer, reduce violence and promote peace.”
That’s a good start, and it should also be an impetus for the mayor, his top cop and the rest of us to think outside the box.
Current strategies aren’t working so let’s try some things that might.