Chicago religious and community leaders on Wednesday laid out a plan to help prevent summer gun violence by calling on residents to speak out about shootings in their neighborhoods.
The event comes as many in the city are bracing for the expected surge in gun violence that typically comes when the weather gets warmer. Last year there were more than 770 shootings in the months of June, July and August. Those numbers are lower than in 2016 and 2017, but there is recent cause for concern — 58 people were murdered in Chicago last month, an 18-year high for April murders.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be or not going to be [a violent summer], obviously we all pray and hope that it’s not going to be. But our job is to be preventive,” Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church said. “We want to keep it from being a violent summer by communities standing up and saying ‘Not here, not on this block. We’re watching and we’re reporting.’”
About 80 people attended Wednesday’s event at St. Sabina in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Organizers handed out yard signs that read “We Report Violence” on the front, with a phone number and website for anonymous crime tips on the back.
Pfleger asked those in attendance at the event to put the signs up in their windows or front doors, and hand them out to neighbors to do the same.
Chicago artist Maxwell Emcays designed the signs with the traditional African colors of black, red, yellow and green as a way to promote unity among residents who may feel alone in their own fight against the city’s gun violence.
“They never actually have to report a single crime, but just by the sheer presence of the sign they show the sense of unity and brotherhood,” Emcays said. “The same way police use a uniform to deter crime … these are also a deterrence in that sense.”
The signs and the event were also meant to address the reluctance of people in high-crime neighborhoods to cooperate with police. Chicago police officials often blame the so-called “no snitch” culture for the department’s dismal record solving shootings and murders.
People at the event said that lack of cooperation has many causes, including distrust of police and fear of retribution from those doing the shooting.
“There’s a lot of complex factors that go into [people not reporting crime], fear being the number one reason, I believe,” attendee Mack Julion said. “People are afraid to call the police, people are afraid to work with police.”
Still, organizers called on residents to overcome those concerns and fears to report violence. They argued that a coordinated effort to report crime would mean less gun violence.
“You know that bridge between law enforcement and community is a long way from being built yet. But we can’t wait for that bridge, with the summer coming ahead of us and warm weather and violence still going on all around this city,” Pfleger said. “So we’re saying, while that bridge is being built — and it’s got to be built there is no question — but while it’s being built, we’re going to do our part in the community.”
And Emcays said there is strength in numbers when it comes to addressing the fear many feel about the violence around them.
“When we are unified, those problems get reduced. When we are unified, those voices get amplified and it’s harder to [single out] an individual that reported a crime, no the whole community as a whole did it,” Emcays said.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.