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Chicago Race Focuses on Violence, But Community Groups Feel Ignored

In the campaign for the Feb. 28 Chicago mayoral election, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's record on gun violence is under close scrutiny as she faces challenges from her right and left on how to make the city safer. In a crowded field of nine candidates, all have given lip service to community violence intervention groups, but few have advocated for more funding for programs that offer an alternative policing as the debate goes back and forth between calls for harsher punishment and expanded policing versus addressing the trauma and inequality driving crime and violence, Bolts reports.

Lightfoot has touted her funding of community violence intervention programs, but more often she emphasizes law enforcement. “People who pick up a gun and wreak havoc in a neighborhood, they need to be locked up. Period, full stop,” Lightfoot told Politico in a Feb. 2023 interview. Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas, running to the right of Lightfoot and endorsed by the notoriously brash police union, promises to address crime by hiring more police officers to patrol the streets and prosecuting more low-level “nuisance” crimes. Candidates running to the left of Lightfoot, like Brandon Johnson, endorsed by the powerful teachers union, argue Lightfoot has failed to address the root causes of violence in the city’s South and West Sides, and say more police does not result in safer neighborhoods. “The root of the problem is we’re dealing with young people that are traumatized,” Chicago CRED’s housing coordinator Kanoya Ali told Bolts. “Many of them have lost 20 friends and they’re not 20 years old.” Homicides are down nearly 15 percent since 2021, the most violent year in Chicago since the crime wave of the 1990s. Still, the level of homicides remains exceedingly high: Chicago has had more than 400 homicides every year running since 1965 — a 58-year streak. Gun violence prevention groups are now in the political spotlight, but at current funding levels, these groups are only reaching a small fraction of people who are at risk of being targeted by shooters.

“We have to keep scaling this work. We know we’re not at scale,” Arne Duncan, co-founder of Chicago CRED, who also served as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as well as US Education Secretary, said. “There’s so many men and women and teens we’re not serving yet.”


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