After youth violence spikes, Chicago to expand program offering therapy, mentorship

After youth violence spikes, Chicago to expand program offering therapy, mentorship

Malik Hicks speaks at a press conference about Chicago’s new violence prevention program.

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat.

With 11 children shot just a few weeks ago in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on February 21 the expansion of a program to offer therapy, field trips and mentorship to young people deemed at high risk of experiencing gun violence and trauma.

Based on a pilot run last summer, the program promises a three-year investment, starting with $1.1 million this summer, to offer more than 2,000 young people emotional and social support.

Besides helping teens cope with the fallout of violence, the program also aims to convince them not to pick up a gun, or engage in conflict that could end in violence.

“If you’ve picked up a gun, you’ve picked up a ticking time bomb,” Lightfoot said at a press conference at Phillips High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood.

Chicago has a responsibility to help young people make good choices, the mayor said. “As a city, we have a fundamental obligation to ensure young people who are involved in gun violence have the resources and supports they need to get back on the right path.”

Young people in Chicago are disproportionately likely to be involved in gun violence — they are 11% of the city’s population, but make up 19% of homicide victims and 25% of homicide suspects.

Many of the victims, and those actively involved in violence, are likely to have attended an alternative school. In the four years through 2016-17, one-quarter of the 425 Chicago Public Schools students who died by violence had been attending those schools. While only 2% of district enrollment, alternative school students are disproportionately affected by violence in the city, according to a Chicago Reporter investigation.

The city’s new initiative will focus on alternative school students, schools chief Janice Jackson said at Friday’s press conference. The program also will serve students involved in the justice system, previously victimized by violence, or not on track to graduate on time.

A review by the University of Chicago Crime and Education Labs found that students involved in the pilot program had 32% fewer misconduct incidents in schools than the control group.

Even as the mayor pushed to involve young people in the program, known as Choose to Change, she acknowledged that they don’t control all the violence. Of last weekend’s shootings involving children, at least three were accidental.

“Adults, we have to be better,” Lightfoot said.

Speaking at the press conference, Acting Police Superintendent Charlie Beck said two adults were prosecuted over the weekend for endangering young people by allowing access to guns.

The mayor also acknowledged that efforts to end gun violence run up against intractable social problems.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that it is easier for them to get access to a handgun than to get a job, easier to handle things on the street than it is to get access to social-emotional support,” Lightfoot said.

If the summer program is any indication, the new program will provide some support for young people, but might not change the harsh reality they face each day.

Kayla, one of the students who participated in a six-week pilot program over the summer, said the program was a welcome respite but, like the rest of the students, she would return to communities that struggle with a lack of jobs and housing and an excess of violence.

“Y’all took kids that ain’t had nothing and gave them something,” she told Chalkbeat last summer. “It’s a positive thing, but it’s just for the moment.”

#DanRyanShutDown — Do protests really change policy?

#DanRyanShutDown — Do protests really change policy?

As I watched a diverse group of activists, beyond frustrated with gun violence in Chicago, shut down the Dan Ryan, one of the busiest expressways in the Chicago area, I felt a solidarity with their cause. Led by Father Pfleger of St. Sabina Church and Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday, July 7, thousands of activists from all areas of the city and the suburbs screamed “shut it down” right before they took over all four lanes of the expressway on the northbound lanes from 79th Street to 67th Street.

When I texted a friend of mine, who is very active in her South Side Chicago community, she was a lot less enthused about the event.

“What I don’t get is we’re primarily killing each other. How does marching on the highway reduce crime in our own community?”

I countered that it’s hard to ignore the problem when people practice civil disobedience. Then she responded, “Agreed, but it doesn’t influence or shape policy.”

She has a point about us killing each other, but I’m not sure I agree that civil disobedience and non-violent protests won’t change policy. This past spring, there were organized national marches in Chicago and across the nation against gun violence in schools and in the streets — nothing much has changed…yet. As of the first week in July, more than 1300 people have been shot in Chicago this year, according to The Chicago Tribune. And new school shootings seem to happen on the regular. But we’ve seen how peaceful protests have turned a bad situation around in the past.

President Trump has argued that Chicago has some of the toughest gun control laws, but some suggest the laws are actually too lenient. Whatever your political bent, that doesn’t take away from the fact that we need to continue the tradition of putting our faith in action to make change happen and our communities safer. Next week, I’m not sure anyone will remember this march. But the pressure does let politicians know that although we join them in their thoughts and prayers, we also demand more effective solutions. Gov. Rauner, we heard you, but are you listening?