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A human approach to Chicago's gun violence

Romuald Lenou,
Graduate Assistant

Sometimes, the solution to a problem isn’t in changing laws. Instead, it’s in changing minds, and it’s in emphasizing the good in humanity. Consider gun violence in Chicago. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 6 of this year, a shooting took place every 2.84 hours for a total of 2,349 shootings in Chicago, according to the Daily Caller.

DePaul School of Public Service’s distinctive competency lies in the teaching of our namesake, St. Vincent DePaul, who said: “Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances.” Vincent’s words inspire me to address this problem from two perspectives: public policy and public service.

The City of Chicago should not wrestle with this issue alone.

Up until recently, the city had relied on a holistic approach to solve gun violence. It did that through adoption of CeaseFire Illinois, a local branch of a national program called CureViolence. The program uses former gang members age 30 to 40 to serve as “credible messengers” to treat at risk individuals through counseling, according to a paper by Charles Ransford, Candice Kane and the program’s founder, Gary Slutkin of the University of Illinois at Chicago. But PBS reported in 2013 that “CeaseFire had at times a “tense relationship” with Chicago police, who said they’d received tips that “some interrupters had slipped back into criminal activity.” PBS reported in the same article that the city had cut its funding of CeaseFire.

A 2014 report from CPD entitled “The impact of illegal guns on violence in Chicago” showed that the city started to focus more on a legalistic approach that emphasizes toughening the penalties for gun violations and creating a database for law enforcement to track shifting gang alliances. In its conclusion, the report declared: “Chicago’s violence problem is largely a gun problem.”

I suggest the city use a humanistic approach, one that stresses the good in human behavior. We should not treat gang members as eternal villains. Rather, the police department should incentivize them to join its network and collectively address gun violence.

Solving this problem strictly through a structural frame that prioritizes policies over relationships hinders cooperation and fosters mistrust between gang members and law enforcement. CureViolence/CeaseFire was a good start in that respect because the initiative aimed to put a lid on the gang members’ assertion that law enforcement was only targeting them. Yet I think CPD made a mistake in painting all gang members with the same brush, especially since some clearly had given CeaseFire a chance.

My humanistic approach stimulates social capital and mobilizes civil society as a new solution to gun violence.

To have an effect on gun violence, the City of Chicago should again extend its outreach — to educational, religious, business and nonprofit organizations. Since some gang members and troubled youth do not trust law enforcement, those civic institutions can fill this vacuum of trust. Once CPD builds social capital among its various stakeholders and mobilizes civil society, it could implement my Alternative to Gun Violence (ATGV) initiative.

To ensure effectiveness, law enforcement must evaluate ATGV through performancebased management. Gang members should take a leadership role and design rules and policies in consultation with the state and nonprofit sector. They would receive incentives in the form of job placement and expungement of non-violent criminal records only if the city sees a significant and steady drop in the violent crime rates.

We cannot solve this problem only from a public policy perspective; public servants should also address gun violence through a public service lens.

I encourage the DePaul community to volunteer with nonprofits such as Freedom4youth that rely on college students, ex-gang members and former troubled youth to fight gun violence. I also recommend a summit on gun violence in which students identify three data-driven gun-violence strategies that the City of Chicago can adopt to ensure everybody’s safety.

Candidates for the 2016 presidential election seem to agree on the need for universal background checks for weapons purchases. Although it would restrict the access to guns for certain unfit people, such a move would fall short of solving the underlining problem of gun violence in cities such as Chicago.

Resolving the issue of gun violence is not simply about changing the laws. It is about changing the minds of gang members and troubled youth.

A humanistic perspective, through its provision of social capital and mobilization of civil society, is the first step that we must take.

‘My humanistic approach stimulates social capital
and mobilizes civil society as a new solution to gun violence.’