Evette Dionne says that when it comes to ending the horrific epidemic of murders in Chicago, it’s about addressing the reasons people own guns.
Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was little more than a week removed from performing at President Obama’s second inauguration when bullets riddled her petite frame. Janay McFarlane, 18, had no inkling that she would be gunned down on the same afternoon that her sister, Destini Warren, 14, watched the president deliver a speech at Hyde Park Career Academy. The sudden deaths of these black queens have deepened America’s collective sadness. The First Lady attended Hadiya’s funeral, further sinking the tragedy in our national consciousness, but homicide is routine in Chicago. More than 500 people were killed by gun violence in 2012 according to the Chicago Tribune and the first month of 2013 was the bloodiest in a decade.
Pendleton and McFarlane’s deaths have inserted Chicago’s bloodshed into the larger gun control discourse, which has been consistently examined in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre. But two of those three incidents are not interrelated. Chicago’s spike in gun violence stems from much more than lack of gun regulation. The Midwest war zone has one of the strictest gun policies in the nation. Assault weapons are prohibited and all handgun owners seeking a permit must adhere to an extensive background check. The Washington Times reported that during a raid, Chicago police seized more than 7,000 guns in a single sweep, but despite these policy initiatives, the extensive bloodshed continues.
The continuing incline in violence is partly due to innercity gun trafficking; though assault weapons are banned, handguns are used in 80 percent of Chicago’s murders according to Chicago Business. These are usually transported from areas in Illinois where gun control is more lax or Mississippi, where 400 guns were traced from during the Chicago Police Department’s recovery efforts.
Rev. Ira J. Acree, who advocates for gun control legislation, explains it best. “Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it’s like you’ve got this single house sitting on a whole block where there’s anarchy.”
The spike in violence can be attributed to two other significant factors: Gangs and poverty. Chicago Business found that 60 percent of Chicago’s homicides are directly connected to gang activity. Most of these shootings occur during the summer months, when rival gangs attempt to enhance their reputation by gaining control of drug areas. This search for power leads to higher losses of life.
But the gang epidemic spawns from a deeper cultural riff according to Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois, a social activist organization targeted toward reducing gang violence. Hardiman asserts that the introduction of drugs into urban communities has led to a generation of black men without guidance. “Right now, a lot of African-American males are living their lives in these so-called ghettos and they’ve been ostracized by society, causing them to create their own,” he wrote in an article for The Huffington Post. “By establishing their own society, I’ve seen young black males institute their own rules where harming others and killing is the norm in the ghetto. Selling narcotics, buying guns, shooting dice and the overall criminal lifestyle is just a way of life in their self-orchestrated ghetto society.”
The ostracizing of minorities, particularly black men, has led to socioeconomic segregation in Chicago. Steve Bogira, a Chicago-based journalist, found that from 2004 t0 2008, there was a staggering 13-to-1 disparity between homicides in Chicago’s poorest and more affluent areas. He attributes that statistic to decades of systemic inequities like racial discrimination, lack of opportunity, and a poor educational system.
For Black American men and women without hope, guns provide a sense of freedom and power. Until these structural prejudices are addressed and corrected, violence will continue to increase in Chicago.
By Evette Dionne
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AP photo: Charles Rex Arbogast