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Violence won’t stop activists working for peace

By Starla Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Sep 26, 2013 - 1:22:35 PM

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Woman becomes emotional near the scene of a shooting at Cornell Square Park, Sept. 19, in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood that left multiple victims including a 3-year-old boy. The attack was the latest violence in a city that has struggled to stop such shootings by increasing police patrols. Photos: A/P WideWorldPhotos
CHICAGO ( - In the aftermath of gun violence that injured 13 people, including a 3-year-old in a city recently named the “murder capital” of the country by the F.B.I., activists and community organizers are frustrated but refuse to give up or give in.

Saying news of the late-night shooting in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the Southwest side was “like a punch in the gut,” Craig Chico, president and CEO of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, said the area had remained relatively quiet during the summer until the Sept. 19 incident.

“We felt as though we were turning a corner. We had some momentum built up in this community and in this neighborhood and a number of collaborative efforts between our organization, other organizations, the Chicago police department, schools, library, parks, everybody; churches, we felt was really making an impact,” said Mr. Chico.


Back of the Yards is so named because it is located near old industrial stockyards. The residential area is 57.3 percent Latino, 29.6 percent Black and the median income is less than $26,000 per year.

According to media reports, “dreadlocked men” opened fire with semi-automatic weapons, firing into a crowd gathered at a park. The 3-year old was reportedly shot near the ear, the bullet exiting his cheek. At Final Call press time, the boy was still hospitalized.

“We thought we were making inroads. And we are, we still are. As a community we can’t allow this. There’s going to be a time of healing and a time of setback but it can only be temporary.  We have to now come together as a community and make some good out of this,” added Mr. Chico who called the incident a “random act of violence” and not a gang turf dispute as other reports suggest.

Police say the shooting was the result of a continuous dispute between the Gangster Disciples and the Black P. Stones, two Chicago street organizations.

In a statement issued Sept. 20, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said “senseless and brazen acts of violence have no place” in the city.  He called for Chicago residents to “continue their individual efforts to build stronger communities where violence has no place.”

3-year-old Deonta Howard was hit by gunfire. Photo: MGN-Online
But the violence has found a place, mostly on the South and West Sides populated largely by Blacks and Latinos. 

Maricela Garcia, CEO of GADS Hill Center, a community resource organization that services Back of the Yards, said with most tragedies that garner public attention, the response is mostly reactive and temporary.

“We invest more in intervention once we see the problems rather than taking a step back and preventing the problem,” said Ms. Garcia. Job opportunities for youth are a preventative measure, she said. Society does not invest and open opportunities to vulnerable populations like Black and Latino youth, she added.

Keisha J. Willis, founder and executive director of Speaking Publicly Eliminates Another Killing (S.P.E.A.K), knows firsthand how community-based groups focused on solutions struggle for funding.

“People don’t have enough money and for me it’s like how do you put a price on helping people?” asked Ms. Willis who started her organization after her brother and his friend were murdered in 2011.

Ms. Willis, who is also a special education teacher, believes there is enough money to help groups that are effective in doing work to quell the violence. The question is whether those who control financial resources feel the money is worth spending, she said.

Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam in Part 23 of his year-long Online lecture series, “The Time and What Must Be Done,” again called on Black leaders to come together “as intelligent human beings to save a generation.” Black young people will be “lost unless we take the proper steps to save our youth,” warned Min. Farrakhan.

“How many of you have ever sat down to think of how you can solve the problem by creating jobs and employment for the young people in the inner cities of America, particularly Chicago and Los Angeles?” he asked.  

Ms. Garcia said finding opportunities through collaboration between businesses, government and non-profits can offer youth alternatives to crime and violence. Ms. Willis agreed.

“You have to come together… everybody is not doing this type of work. Everybody is not cut out for this type of work so when you do have those people that can come together and be on the same accord and mobilize, that’s huge because it’s happening in so many pockets. It’s not just the urban communities. It’s everywhere,” said Ms. Willis.

“If we are all on the same page, if we’re all talking about the same thing, which is really to help our children, then there is no reason that we should not all link up together and make this thing happen,” she added.

Organizations with proven results need funding, others, like the Nation of Islam, don’t ask for money but often are maligned for doing the very work others refuse to do. Min. Farrakhan has often asked that the Nation of Islam be permitted to operate without interference and hindrance to provide much needed support and service to America’s inner cities.

“We want you to let us have them—and if you want to see what we can do, sit down with us and we’ll show you how this can be done. And let it be a ‘cooperative effort,’ ‘you and us,’  the police and us, the government and us, the leaders and us. It is not hopeless,” said Min. Farrakhan.

“It will take all the sectors that care about Chicago, who care about a stable city investing. And investing in initiatives that are going to make a difference and are not going to be only a reaction to something that is happening in the Southwest,” said Ms. Garcia.

“What is it that we should be doing differently in terms of policies and investment so that we go and start digging deep into what is happening with our youth in our city in order to have long lasting solutions and not just reactions?” she asked.