By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
The summer months in Chicago are typically when you see a spike in violent crimes, but this year’s deadliest weekend thus far happened during the last week of October.
Chicago Police officials reported that 17 people were murdered, including 17-year-old twins and a 14-year-old who was merely helping his father move.
The senseless violence is tearing at the morale of a city on edge as it continues to struggle to shake its image as the most dangerous city in America. Community leaders on both the South and West Sides say crime is driving away good citizens to other cities and states.
Even the suburbs are not as safe as they used to be, especially south suburbs, like Dolton and Calumet City. The Crusader spoke with leaders this week who said there are a multitude of issues that are fueling the crime, including broken homes, mental health, poor education/training, and lack of good paying jobs. While some of these issues are being ignored, others are being addressed, but it is going to take time to see them addressed.
“Chicago is experiencing a blood bath of epic proportions, and there seems to be no real solutions being offered to stop the carnage,” said Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church, who along with a group of ministers, is offering a reward in the murders of fraternal twins Edward and Edwin Bryant.
The Bryant brothers were shot early Sunday morning on the city’s North Side. Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the boys had no criminal history, but said the people they were with at the time were gang members. He said police are looking at that as a motive in the shooting. The brothers’ stepmother, Doneesha Coleman, said they were two loving kids who came from a good Christian family. She said the twins’ family and friends are devastated by the news.
The brothers were just two of the 17 people who lost their lives over Halloween weekend. In addition, another 57 people were wounded by gunfire. It was also the worst weekend for murders in Chicago since August of 2002.
After a graduation ceremony for 200 new officers, Johnson told reporters that police resources are not part of the problem. He said the people committing these crimes simply do not care if they are seen on video or if police are around. When asked if there was a manpower problem within the department, Johnson quickly dismissed this notion.
“The communities that we typically see violence in, they didn’t get shortchanged,” he said. “We had adequate resources there. They [shooters] just don’t care. I’m sick of it, and I know the people in the communities are tired of it.”
Harold Davis, local talk show host and activist, said mental health is a major problem in Chicago, along with many victims being targeted because of their bloodlines. He said it is important for the public to know that many of the victims have fathers, grandfathers or other relatives who have ties to Chicago gangs even if the victims themselves do not.
He said no better example of this is what happened a year ago to Tyshawn Lee, the seven-year-old who was lured into a South Side alley and assassinated by a man who knew his mother, but was feuding with his father, a member of a rival gang.
“I think there is an adult problem, and now the children are paying. This adult problem is a mental health issue because anyone who could do what was done to that seven-year-old has got to be a little crazy,” Davis said. “When you add to that, many of these adults are self-medicating off of ‘molly.’ All of these mind-altering drugs they are experimenting with now. I mean the top priority has to be mental health.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he saved $3 million for the city by closing six mental health clinics in the past few years. But Davis pointed out that the county jail spent extra $33 million on housing, caring and treating mentally-ill inmates. He said there is also the cost of lives being ruined by violence, which is affecting entire families and communities.
“It’s not just our men; it’s our women losing their lives, too. And, let’s not forget about the teen that was found burned in a trash can recently. You have to have some serious mental problems to be that callous,” Davis stated.
He went on to say the body count is going to go up because a large portion of these murders are retaliation hits, and that one clue to when a family has some sort of gang ties is you will not hear them make public statements themselves after a loved one was murdered. Davis said in the case of the Bryant twins, their grandfather, who is now deceased, was a well-known gang member by the name of Ford J from the Rockwell Gardens projects on the West Side.
Che “Rhymefest” Smith, a Grammy award-winning rapper and local radio talk show host, said he and others are trying to use hip-hop music as a way to create peaceful neighborhoods and to give young people a positive outlet to express themselves. This summer, Smith was a victim of violence when he was robbed at gunpoint on the South Side.
Speaking at DePaul University recently, Smith said more art and music programs need to be created in the neighborhoods that are most at risk. He said these disciplines have been taken out of schools and park districts so more community organizations are trying to fill the void. But, he says right now there are more people in need than there are programs.
“We do a lot of good work with Donda’s House, but that’s just one organization,” he said.
Donda’s House is a not-for-profit arts organization founded by rapper Kanye West and named after his mother, former Chicago State University English professor Dr. Donda West.
While Smith said the program and others like it are making a difference in hundreds of Chicago kids, he said the problems in the Black community are so deep-rooted and have taken place over decades; it is going to take a long time to change the course.