Gov. Pat Quinn should call on the Illinois National Guard to fight the violence in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, according to State Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago). But at least two Chicagoans who have lost loved ones to gun violence think military involvement is a bad idea.
“This violence needs to stop today,” said Davis in an interview with Progress Illinois. “The National Guard goes into communities based on the governor’s request, when there’s a natural disaster or civil unrest. It is my belief that we are suffering from civil unrest in this city.”
The city has logged nearly 230 homicides for the year, as of July 22, according to RedEye Chicago’s homicide tracker. More than 85 percent of the recorded murders were from gunshot wounds.
“This gun violence tears families apart," said Charlene Davis, 40, a local activist who sits on the board for the anti-violence group Chicago’s Citizens for Change.
Charlene Davis’ 21 year-old niece, Chanda Faye Thompson, was shot and killed in 2011 in Chatham, on the city's South Side.
"I feel like I failed her," Charlene said.
Thompson, an honor student, had a promising career ahead of her, she added. While Thompson and her boyfriend were driving with a friend, a gunman looking for the person in the back seat shot at the car. Everyone in the vehicle was murdered.
Charlene said the shooter has yet to be convicted. Thompson left behind a daughter who was just two years-old at the time of her monther's death.
“These shooters, they don’t care. They killed her in broad daylight,” she said. “But even though Chicago looks like a war zone, members of the National Guard are trained to kill and that wouldn’t do anything to change the culture of violence in our neighborhoods.”
Charlene Davis said bringing in the Illinois National Guard would only strengthen the ideology that some of Chicago’s neighborhoods are battlegrounds.
“It would only make it worse,” she said, adding that she is “always scared” for her two children, ages 14 and 19.
To successfully combat gun violence in the city, the “learned behavior” to use firearms for conflict resolution “needs to be unlearned”, according to Charlene.
Ronald Holt, 53, a commander with the Chicago Police Department and former president of the gun-violence support and prevention group Purpose Over Pain, agrees with Charlene, saying employing the Illinois National Guard would “only further militarize and exacerbate this war-like culture."
“Early education on violence prevention is key,” he said. “We should be trying to change the behavior of these individuals who think it’s acceptable to shoot a firearm at someone.”
Holt’s 16 year-old son, Blair, fell victim to Chicago’s gun violence in 2007. After leaving Percy Julian High School in Washington Heights, Blair and several other students were caught in gang-related crossfire while riding the bus. Blair, an honor student, was the only fatality.
“Not only is my son gone, but the individual that shot him is serving out a 100-year prison sentence as we speak,” Holt said. “There were no wins in this awful tragedy.”
He added that, after watching the bus camera’s footage of the incident, his son’s murderer “had an opportunity to make the right choice.” Maybe if someone had taught him the proper channels of conflict resolution, Holt said, he wouldn’t have fired his weapon on the bus that day.
The National Guard, he noted, most likely wouldn’t educate Chicago’s youth on violence prevention and thus wouldn’t solve anything in the long run.
“The mere imagery of military style weaponry and artillery would send a negative visual impact to the community and the city as a whole,” he said. “Bringing in more guns isn’t going to encourage kids to put down their guns.”
But Rep. Davis said bringing in the Illinois National Guard would put an immediate stop to Chicago’s violence. The Chicago Police Department, she added, is inadequately resourced to take on the task alone.
“I realize the police cannot be everywhere, and I respect that,” she said.
Budget cuts in 2011 resulted in the loss of 1,400 jobs in the Chicago Police Department. Also, a new initiative relying on officers patrolling extra hours in the city’s most violent areas reportedly exhausted two-thirds of the department's overtime budget within the first three months of 2013.
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said he was “disappointed” in Chicago’s violent 4th of July weekend. But, pointing to 2012's alarming 500 murders in the city, McCarthy added that the department's violence initiatives are “clearly working." So far, homicides have decreased about 25 percent this year.
Following the violent 4th of July holiday weekend, during which 12 people were killed and 74 were shot, McCarthy announced new initiatives for the Chicago Police Department, including a bigger social media network and revamped website.
“I respect our police chief and his strategies, but I don’t think it’s making the citizens safe in the city of Chicago,” Rep. Davis said.
The legislator added that she doesn't expect recently passed concealed carry legislation to have an effect on the city's gun violence, a statement with which both Holt and Charlene Davis could agree.
"There's something wrong when parents are burying children," Rep. Davis said. "We're not burying parents and grandparents who will go through training and carry their guns legally, we're burying seven year-olds."
A federal appeals court struck down Illinois’ ban on concealed carry back in December. The new law mandates 16 hours of training before a permit is issued. It also prohibits concealed carry on public transportation and in schools, parks, casinos, government buildings and stadiums. Carrying a concealed firearm will be permitted in restaurants and bars, but only in places where less than half of the revenue is generated from alcohol sales. Firearms are also permitted in cars under the concealed carry legislation.
Holt said because public transportation is not one of the locations where concealed carry is permissible under the new law, it isn't likely his son's death could have been prevented by the legislation. Charlene said her niece's shooter would have probably fired his weapon regardless if someone nearby had been carrying a concealed firearm.
"Concealed carry will absolutely not have an effect on Chicago's gun violence," said Rep. Davis.
The lawmaker says she hasn’t received a response from Quinn regarding her call for the use of the Illinois National Guard. Davis also submitted a letter to the governor and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, requesting they work together to appoint a citizen-led task force to advise the reserve military force.
“It is mayhem out there on the streets," Rep. Davis said. "Something has to happen to stop this foolishness."