“The young people need the love and support, and the time, of the adults,” says Congressman Bobby Rush during his closing remarks at the National Emergency Summit on Urban Violence held on July 25-26, at Chicago State Universit, on the city's South Side. “If we would invest more of our time with these young people, we can stop this violence,” Rush concluded.
The summit was organized by Illinois members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Robin Kelly, Danny Davis, and Bobby Rush, in response to concerns over high levels of violence in Chicago and other American cities. The first day featured a dinner that included Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The second day comprised of a plenary session; breakout sessions on gun violence, youth violence, gang violence, and domestic violence; and ended with a town hall meeting where break-out group summaries were presented, questions were asked by the public, and congressional representatives provided responses.
Although murders in Chicago are lower in the first six months of 2013 compared to 2012, the emergency summit began soon after the City recorded 46 murders since the beginning of July, including the extremely violent 4th of July weekend that included 74 shootings and 12 murders. The congressional representatives all indicated that the recent persistence of murders and shootings in Chicago that continue to place the city in national headlines, served as motivation to organize the emergency summit.
About 400 people, including 50 youth participated in the sessions. The youth violence breakout session was the most popular among participants, with over 90 attending. Chelsea James, one of the three youth participants from Project Orange Tree expressed her dissatisfaction: “There are very few youth [less than 5] in this room….This is just my own opinion, and I am not gonna say it is the opinion of Project Orange Tree. Part of the problem is that we have adults trying to figure out what kids want and do not have youth figuring out what they want,” she lamented. Recommendations from the youth violence group included having more active engagements with the youth to understand their suggestions for solutions, increasing employment and educational opportunities for youth, and conducting more peaceful resolution training.
Congressman Danny Davis participated in the breakout session on gang violence, and engaged in occasional heated debates with participants who challenged him about the lack of funding support received by programs where local men and women work directly with at-risk-youth. The steady lineup of ex-offenders and former street organization (gang) members were united in similar claims as articulated by Kublai K. M. Toure, Executive Director, The Amer-I-Can Illinois, Inc.:
“The problem is that this system, and some of our own people do not give us the resources we need. We are coming together because we need to do what we need to do as Black men. I am doing this for 21 years. Why are we getting the short end of the stick? I am one of the chapters for Jim Brown, and he can't get help. There are a lot of brothers on the streets hurting, and we really need some help.”
Congressman Davis responded by outlining the legislation he has supported to promote second chance and other initiatives intended to help ex-offenders. He urged people to employ ex-offenders, as he doe
Dr. Sharon Latiker, CEO of Labor of Love Arts Performing Academy said during her summary from the gang violence break out group, “A child cannot be what a child cannot see. The parent is the first teacher, but may not be the best teacher… it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to save one. Children get involved in gangs because of love.” She advocated mentoring a child or a parent to address issues of gang violence.
Attorney Mariam Perkins, Chairperson of Criminal Justice Department at Chicago State University, reported that the break out session on domestic violence concluded that, “Domestic violence is a precurser to youth violence and gang violence. It is a learned behavior from birth to age 7…for solutions, education for the parents, and education for the children…Please do not forget domestic violence, it is an extremely important issue that must be considered.”
Chicago State University President Dr. Wayne Watson indicated that his university is part of the solution, having, “established an interdisciplinary institute for urban problems.” Dr. Watson challenged other universities in Chicago and elsewhere to, “re-prioritize resources, and take resources from social work to health management, to get students to go to the contiguous communities, with faculty, to have actionable strategies to solve problems in communities in the way universities did in the turn of the 20thcentury.”
As for the follow up action, Congressman Danny Davis said in his closing remarks, “I think the plan is that we are going to take three or four concrete initiatives that we will promote and try to convince other people to support.” Congressman Bobby Rush has called for August 28th to be recognized as a national day of non-violence to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean is the Executive Director and Founder of Peaceful World Movement, an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Governors State University and University at Buffalo Department of Sociology, and CEO of Quality of Life Solutions, Chicago. He is also the author of Pockets of Crime: Broken Windows, Collective Efficacy and the Criminal Point of View.