Victims, community leaders discuss Boykin 7-point plan to end gun violence
Saturday, June 13, 2015
by Marwa Eltagouri
Gun violence forum
Marwa Eltagouri, Chicago Tribune
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, left, and Ald. Willie Cochran discuss options for curbing gun violence in Chicago at a June 13, 2015, meeting at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, left, and Ald. Willie Cochran discuss options for curbing gun violence in Chicago at a June 13, 2015, meeting at the University of Illinois at Chicago. (Marwa Eltagouri, Chicago Tribune)
Seven years after losing her son to gun violence, Brenda Hale scanned the crowd before her Saturday with blank eyes and an expressionless face. She then held up a thick, cream-colored piece of paper.
It was a signed letter from President Barack Obama, written in reply to a poem Hale wrote and sent to him. The poem, addressed to her son's shooter, captured her heartache. The last stanza read, "Though I cannot find you, I want you to see; You took more than my son, you took part of me."
Hale read aloud the president's response.
"I am deeply saddened to hear about your loss and the pain you have experienced," she read. "Our most fundamental right to life, and the pursuit of happiness, are at a stake when we lose a loved one taken from a bullet."
A similar distress throbbed through the meeting room in the University of Illinois at Chicago's Student Center, as many of the nearly 100 residents Hale addressed also had lost loved ones to gun violence in Chicago's South and West side neighborhoods. They had gathered Saturday morning to weigh in on Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin's recently unveiled seven-point plan to stop gun violence and put a stop to what he referred to as "domestic terrorism."
To help present the plan, Boykin gathered a panel of aldermen, a sociology professor, a former Latin Kings gang member, a Chicago police official, a church elder and other community leaders to discuss the plan's strengths and weaknesses.
About 1,100 people have been shot in Chicago since Jan. 1, according to a Chicago Tribune database.
"This is one of the most urgent problems confronting our city and our country," Boykin said. "It's a matter of life and death. You can't mention pensions if there aren't any people."
The seven points outlined in Boykin's plan include: Creating parenting workshops throughout Chicago and Cook County; strictly enforcing curfew laws; expanding drug courts; charging co-conspirators and those responsible for the shootings; deploying the sheriff's police in high-crime city areas; instituting stiffer penalties for people illegally in possession of firearms; and providing job training for areas with high levels of violence, unemployment and poverty.
Boykin said he doesn't have a cost estimate for his plan, but said some of the points, such as curfew enforcement, are already being funded.
Many panelists agreed that proper parenting was an appropriate first step toward curbing gun violence, and believed that single parents in poor communities struggled to raise their kids while working to make minimum wage. Chicago police Deputy Chief Eric Washington suggested some teenagers may stay out past curfew to avoid possible neglect, abuse or drug use by their parents.
"As a parent, you should know where your kids are and when," he said. "There's some reason these kids aren't going home."
Panelists discussed different ways to effectively execute parenting workshops. Troy Harden, a sociology professor at Chicago State University, said the target parents would likely not go out of their way to attend a parenting workshop and advice should be brought "to the streets," or directly to them.
Ald. Willie Cochran, 20th, mentioned the disconnect between a positive educational atmosphere in schools and a detrimental home environment, and the necessity of enforcing a nurturing atmosphere in children's homes.
While residents and panelists seemed to agree with the plan's emphasis on parenting and curfews, some in attendance disliked the plan's focus on the concept of "domestic terrorism," and the labeling of young gang members as "terrorists."
Panelist Clifton McFowler, a case manager for BUILD Chicago and a convicted felon who spent time in prison, said he works regularly with troubled kids. He said he believed the main solution to solving gun violence was providing job training and opportunities for young adults in poor neighborhoods.
"I don't see terrorists in them," he said. "I see them as kids who need guidance and support. I take offense when you call these kids, my kids, terrorists."
Other residents, like Milton Johnson, thought the seven-point plan should incorporate mental health treatment.
"When I look around, I know the person pulling the trigger is not of good mental health," he said.
Boykin seemed to take note of residents' concerns, but believed his seven-point plan to be holistic and comprehensive.
For the few residents who believed his plan lacked a sense of urgency or immediate action, Boykin posed to them the question, "If you don't support the plan, well, what's your plan?"
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