Black Caucus discusses urban violence at Chicago State
As the national debate over gun violence escalates, the Congressional Black Caucus came to Chicago on Friday promising to put together a plan to curb violence in urban areas.
But at the end of the daylong event, many of the solutions they came up with were nothing new to people in neighborhoods hard-hit by crime: They need jobs. They need more educational opportunities. They need after-school programs.
Acknowledging that they did not have all the answers, the legislators said they hoped to leave with fresh ideas to take back to Washington. But they also acknowledged that funding for anti-violence initiatives is scarce, and it remains up to community groups and others to see that any programs are carried out.
"It's no one thing," said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis of Chicago, who organized the event along with fellow Democratic Reps. Bobby Rush and Robin Kelly. "It's poverty, school closings, lack of good educational opportunities, lack of jobs, parenting and a need to rebuild infrastructure."
The National Emergency Summit on Urban Violence at Chicago State University on the South Side brought together about 200 ministers, community activists, young people and local politicians who met in small groups to talk about the problems plaguing their neighborhoods. About 500 people attended a town hall meeting that followed sessions held throughout the day.
The audience included longtime activists like the Rev. Michael Pfleger, as well as newcomers Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Anthony Pendleton, whose 15-year-old daughter, Hadiya, was shot to death in January. Hadiya's death brought national attention to youth violence in Chicago, prompting first lady Michelle Obama to attend her funeral.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spoke during the morning session, said he welcomed the summit in Chicago but made a point of noting that violence is a national issue. He touted intervention and violence prevention programs for young people that the city has in place.
He said the city has worked to provide summer jobs for young people at a time when federal funding for such programs has been cut drastically. He also said Chicago has a lot more work to do.
"This is not just about fighting crime, it's about providing opportunities for our children and families across the city," the mayor said.
Karol Mason, the recently appointed assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department, delivered the keynote address. She said she hoped to gather information that could be used to develop strategies in Washington.
While much of the national conversation about gun violence has centered on mass shootings such as the one in Newtown, Conn., Kelly said more emphasis should be placed on solving the shootings occurring in neighborhoods like Englewood and Roseland.
"I don't know what the ideas were 10 years ago, but I do know we have a crisis," said Kelly, who is serving her first term in Congress. "We're beating the drum, and I'm not going to let this die because we are losing a generation of young people."
She said the legislators decided to hold the summit after a violent Fourth of July weekend in Chicago, in which more than 70 people were shot.
The delegation included Rep. Maxine Waters of California, Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida. The Rev. Jesse Jackson also participated on the morning panel.
Waters, who led an effort in the 1980s to stem gang violence in cities like Los Angeles, applauded Emanuel's effort to create summer jobs for young people and institute community-based basketball programs. She said more hard-line initiatives are needed.
She advocated that city leaders sit down with gang members and talk, try to reach solutions together and negotiate a truce between the warring factions. Some measures have helped stem gang violence in Los Angeles, she said. She also suggested community policing as means of assisting law enforcement.
Davis said his goal was to develop three or four initiatives that the caucus will promote back in Washington.
"We don't expect to have a panacea, but what we do expect to do is work consistently on the problems and issues to reduce the causes and to find at the same time some immediate redress so that we can bring about change," Davis said.
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