JCRC hears what’s being done to curb gun violence

Trio of community leaders outline some of what's happening on the front lines

JCRC Gun Violence Speakers 1219 image
Julie Wilen, left, Chris Patterson and Jen Keeling

Gun violence in Chicago, and how to curb it, was the focus of the latest session of JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council quarterly meeting.

Julie Wilen, executive director of the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, Chris Patterson, senior director of programs and policy at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, and Jen Keeling, director of strategic partnerships at Chicago CRED, led the discussion and shared statistics outlook, and advocacy priorities with leaders of a wide range of Chicago-area Jewish organizations.

In her remarks, Keeling noted that by the end of the month the city of Chicago will have seen about 500 homicides in 2019. Most of this violence occurs in about 15 neighborhoods throughout the city's South and West sides. Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) is dedicated to a transformative reduction of gun violence in Chicago. Chicago CRED's intervention strategy focuses on finding full-time employment for program participants, who are the most at risk for becoming a victim or perpetrator of gun violence. Programs such as READI, through the Heartland Alliance, and others provide opportunities in neighborhoods with a history of disinvestment and increase overall safety in some of the most violence-stricken communities in Chicago.

Keeling emphasized that current efforts are largely supported by private funding. State and city governments need to increase their investment in violence prevention and intervention strategies because "private money cannot be the solution to a public safety issue," Keeling said.

The Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a collective of more than 50 foundations and individuals formed in 2017, has been primarily focused on addressing both skyrocketing gun violence and supporting a stronger police-community partnership, as well as advocating for gun safety legislation, Wilen said. PSPC has also supported more than 500 grantees in 21 neighborhoods for summer and fall events, programs and services bringing neighbors together, providing rich experiences for youth, and building bridges between police and community. The Summer Fund has allocated more than $3 million in the last three years.

Chicago's Austin neighborhood has seen a 60 percent reduction in shootings from 2016 to 2019, Patterson said. However, many community members still do not feel safe in their daily lives. Patterson's organization, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, uses Kingian nonviolence principles (a set of maxims developed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) to engage neighborhood residents in the work of reducing gun violence. The institute connects people to the resources they need, including therapy, jobs, conflict mediation and other support services.

All three speakers agreed that multipronged approaches have been most effective in combating gun violence, but emphasized that a lot of work remains. Recent commitments by the City of Chicago and State of Illinois leaders to dedicate public money to gun violence prevention, reduction and intervention strategies already at work will lead to greater strides in achieving an ambitious goal: Ending a year in Chicago with fewer than 400 homicides, a level not achieved since 1965.

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