As the weather warms up, most Chicagoans start to get antsy because they say the violence reaches its annual peak during the summer months.
Leonore Draper was fatally shot leaving an anti-violence rally in April. Edina Martin, 14, was shot over what some describe as a dispute over a boy on Facebook during the same month. Groups across the city are rallying, demanding changes; one of those organizations went to the extreme by marching downtown, fully covered in black garbage bags as part of a body bag demonstration.
According to the Chicago Redeye Homicide tracker, the number of homicides citywide has increased. In January—April 2013, there were 100 total homicides, compared to 104 during the same time period this year.
“We all know that crime spikes in the summer when there are more people out on the street and more opportunities for confrontations or violence,” Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a news statement. “Just because that’s a reality doesn’t mean it is acceptable, and we will continue building on our policing strategy to ensure every family, every child and every resident can enjoy a safe and carefree summer.”
The Felony Free Society is a non-profit with the goal of preventing youth and adults from getting felonies. Dalton Brown, the group’s leader, said he wanted to use the visual of the trash bags to really send the message to Chicago that too many people are dying from bullets.
“We wanted to come out here and demonstrate what’s happening and what’s going on with our children,” he said. “A lot of them are in body bags so we want to make sure the city knows that.”
They attracted a lot of attention by starting the march during noon, Wednesday, May 21, when most people were eating outdoors and enjoying the weather. The walk started at the corner of Madison and Michigan and continued to Washington where the men traveled westbound to Clark and around the Daley Center a few times. They ended at the Thompson Center
Their demands? Education in the school system about the consequences of being convicted of a felony, better police protection, and more intervention from the faith-based community are their main requests.
Calvin Newsome, one of the members, has a felony and as a returning citizen he said he is doing his part by mentoring young people and encouraging them to focus on school.
“Once the kids get the education they need and they stay interested in it, they’ll stay out of the streets,” he said.
Another member, Curtis Mayfield Jr., is a former Marine and he said he talks to the gang members, trying to get them to stay away from the violence.
“A lot of the rivalries that go on among our youth in our communities tends to die down during the winter because no one wants to come out,” Mayfield said. “As the weather changes and becomes warmer everybody wants to come out so now there’s the opportunity for vengeance or retaliation.”
One of the solutions to end the violence is to see more of the faith-based communities actively involved, Brown said.
Pastor Larry D. Pickens of Southlawn United Methodist Church, 8605 S. Cregier Ave., agreed, but like many, he believes that there isn’t just one answer.
“I think the problems in our community are systemic,” Pickens said. “We need to get the issues around housing discrimination and look at the impact it has in [Black] communities where people are locked there and unable to move, or they can’t get the finances to build home ownership.”
“There are things churches can do,” Pickens continues. “They can step up and help people deal with housing problems and mental illnesses.” He also added that Calumet Heights, where his church is located, has one of the highest incarceration rates in the city.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel reached out to city churches, asking them to help. Pickens said he has already participated in two conference calls to discuss ideas. Friday, May 23, his congregation hosted a “Put Down the Guns” Rally as the first step of taking back the streets. There was an opportunity for community members of Calumet Heights to express their concerns. Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and a representative from the Chicago Police Department were on the invitation list.
Pickens said he will have his congregation become more involved in the community through vacation Bible schools and partnerships with block clubs and other organizations.
“To make a difference we have to build up an alliance, that’s how we are going to move forward,” he said.
Sweet Holy Spirit Church of Chicago, 8621 S. South Chicago Ave., participated in their own rally Friday.
And Chicago Public School students didn’t want to be left out. Razia Hutchins, a junior at Perspectives Charter School, co-founded a peace march because she is tired of the violence. The “I am for Peace” campaign is to help raise funds through the popular Kickstarter website. The goal is to produce a documentary.
Resident Association of Greater Englewood, or R.A.G.E., doesn’t consider itself an anti-violence organization, said Asiaha Butler, the group’s president. But they work on creating peaceful spaces for their community’s neighborhood, she said, because it can help deter some from violence.
The group’s leader said she feels that the media and anti-violence organizations focus too much on the ones with the guns, who only make up a small percentage in comparison to the rest of the community.
“The majority of people are not the ones with the trigger, shooting people on the block,” she said. “It’s a very small minority and we all know it, but it gets the most attention like with anything that’s negative.”
Instead attention needs to be placed on solutions like creating more art programs for the youth and providing job opportunities that don’t don’t discriminate against those who have a felony on their record, she said.
To continue creating peaceful spaces, R.A.G.E’s “So Fresh Saturday” is partnering with the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in a Park June 7.