by Andrea V. Watson
Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Defender

CHICAGO – Homicides are down in Chicago this year and the statistics haven’t been this low for nearly half a century, said Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, but it’s not time for a celebration yet. More work must be done, he said. In addition to homicides being down, police-involved shootings have also dropped, according to police officials.

Police-involved shootings have declined from 37 percent last year to 32 percent this year, based on figures from the Independent Police Review Authority, which publishes quarterly reports listing the number of police-involved shootings.

When comparing murder rates between 2013 and this year, there has been a 7 percent decline, according to citywide statistics from the Chicago Police. If looking at all crime, which includes things like aggregated battery, theft and criminal sexual assault, there has been a 33 percent decline since 2011. McCarthy has pledged to keep lowering those percentages.

“We will continue to put more officers in high crime areas, proactively intervene in gang conflicts, and enhance our community policing efforts, because fostering stronger relationships with the residents we serve is the foundation of our public safety philosophy,” McCarthy said.

However, that won’t be enough to see the types of results local residents and police would like to see happen.

Mothers like Chicagoan Latafra Green, who lost her son to a gunshot wound to the head two years ago, said that for change to happen, the underlying issues need to first be addressed.

“There will never be an end to the violence because these young guys don’t care anymore and neither do some of the cops,” Green said. “Back in the day, no one was shooting like this, but now they are trying to prove a point, prove that they are tough,” she said.

Changing the mentality of the shooters, as well as providing more resources in underserved communities must be the priority, Green said.

McCarthy doesn’t disagree with that, but he said it is crucial that more state and federal laws be implemented to decrease illegal gun sales. Stopping these guns from entering into the wrong hands is at the top of the list.

“You can just get a gun on the street and today, these kids have more guns than anyone because it is so easy to get one,” Green said.

It also doesn’t help when people refuse to cooperate with the police. Green said that people know who her son’s killer is, but until a witness steps up, he won’t be charged for murder.

This is common in many Chicago neighborhoods, most refer to it as the no-snitching rule. Building trust between the community and local law enforcement is a crucial component to removing many of the perpetrators from the streets, Nate Pendleton said.

He and his wife Cleopatra know oh too well the pain of losing a child to gun violence. The Chicago couple lost their 15-year-old daughter, Hadiya, in January of 2013. Since the unfortunate tragedy, the couple has found a purpose to their pain.

In June, they launched a new initiative, “Hadiya’s Promise: Because Every Child Matters.” It’s twofold. The foundation works with other organizations to curb the violence by offering youth a safe place. Supporters of the foundation are also lobbying for stronger gun control laws, something they believe will halt the violence.

The initiative is working towards “bridging the gap” between the community and law enforcement, Nate Pendleton said.

“We want to try and make it to where our communities can begin to trust the police more,” he said.

“When crimes happen, we can possibly get them solved,” Pendleton said.

To do that, the Pendletons encourage youth to voice their thoughts and feelings. At a recent youth summit held at the DuSable Museum of African American History, they were allowed to do just that. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other law enforcement officials listened.

“We’re bringing ourselves to the kids to just listen and let them vent,” Nate Pendleton said.

“We’re choosing this method over the traditional way, which is the adult telling the kid what to do, because today that just doesn’t seem to work, these younger folks have their own way and we have to respect that,” he said.

That’s one approach; another is addressing the violence as one would an infectious disease. That’s how Cure Violence, a local nonprofit whose model has been shared across the country, looks at it.

“We look at violence as if it is contagious,” said Kathy Buettner, the organization’s communication’s director. “We look at it through a health lens and the good news is, because it’s contagious, we can actually treat it and ultimately cure it,” she said.

Buettner said that their work is viewed as “complementary” to what the local police do day-to-day, but they are seen as more of a prevention program.

“Police apprehend someone when they cross the line, but Cure Violence’s approach focuses on preventing that person from crossing the line,” she said.

The model they follow has three components. The first is identifying a potential violent conflict and then interrupting it. Their trained workers, or violence interrupters, do their best to prevent retaliation by communicating with everyone involved. They also attempt to mediate ongoing conflicts.

Next, working closely with the highest risk and discussing the consequences of a violent act is important. The goal is to change their behavior. An outreach worker can also step in and assist with social services like job training.

And lastly, after a successful behavioral transformation, Cure Violence then works on changing the community’s norm. Violence will no longer be accepted.

All three approaches have been proven to work, Buettner said.

A Northwestern University evaluation, funded by the National Institute of Justice showed positive results in seven Chicago communities such as Auburn-Gresham and West Garfield Park.

Reductions in shootings and killings of 41 percent to 73 percent, reductions in shooting hot spots of up to 40 percent and the elimination of retaliation killings in five of eight communities all happened because of the model.

Buettner said that more improvement can be made towards decreasing the violence if they were citywide, but funding is an issue.

“We’re in a small number of communities, approximately 25 percent of the high risk neighborhoods of the city and that is part of the problem,” she said.

The violence interrupters must be from the community they are working in, Buettner said, because this helps build trust. Pendleton said he agrees with that approach, but added that it is only one component to solving this issue. Building up trust between the community and law enforcement is what really needs to happen, he said. For that to happen, the community needs to support them because they are doing everything they can.

When looking at the progress that has been made so far in addressing the city’s violence, Pendleton said he isn’t satisfied just yet.

“These youth just want to live in a decent and safe society, where they can have fun without worrying about getting killed,” he said.

“Satisfied to me means relaxed, so if I’m not relaxed, I’m never going to be satisfied. There is more work that needs to be done.”

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