Beat­ing back vi­o­lent crime in city starts with one word: trust

Chicago Sun-Times - - BUSINESS -

Chil­dren con­tinue to die in a Chicago that’s get­ting nowhere when it comes to curb­ing vi­o­lent crime. This time it was Ja­nari Ricks, a 9-yearold boy. Ja­nari was play­ing out­side his home on the Near North Side on Fri­day evening. Some­body shot into a crowd and Ja­nari caught a bul­let in the chest. An hour later, he was dead.

If there’s a cor­ner in heaven for kids killed in Chicago, it’s a crowded place.

It seems like only yes­ter­day that we told you about 3-year-old Mekhi James, who was killed on June 20 when some­body pulled along­side his mother’s car in En­gle­wood and started shoot­ing. And about 13-year-old Amaria Jones, who was killed that night by a bul­let that flew through the win­dow of her home in Austin while she was show­ing her mother a dance move.

And about 1-year-old Sin­cere Gas­ton, who was killed on June 27 in En­gle­wood when some­body shot into his mother’s car. And about 10-year-old Lena Nunez, who was killed that night when a bul­let came through the win­dow of her grand­mother’s apart­ment in Lo­gan Square.

And about 7-year-old Natalie Wal­lace, who was killed on the Fourth of July by a stray bul­let at a fam­ily party in South Austin. And about 14-year-old Ver­nado Jones Jr., who was shot and killed that night while stand­ing on the cor­ner of 61st and Car­pen­ter.

So far this year, at least 430 peo­ple have been shot dead in Chicago, in­clud­ing Ja­nari Ricks and eight oth­ers this past week­end. Chicago’s on a bloody mur­der tear, out­pac­ing a na­tional surge in homi­cides — and ev­ery­body is blam­ing ev­ery­body.

We see right and wrong all around.

Be­gins with guns

We’ll start with guns. We re­main con­vinced that the easy ac­cess to guns in this coun­try lies at the very heart of the mat­ter. Noth­ing else ex­plains why mur­der rates in the United States are so much higher than in most of the rest of world.

So far this year, the Chicago po­lice have re­cov­ered 5,736 guns, which works out to 24 or 25 guns for ev­ery square mile.

Un­til our na­tion fi­nally en­acts a fed­eral strat­egy on gun con­trol, lim­it­ing the man­u­fac­ture of the most lethal weapons, re­quir­ing back­ground checks on all gun buy­ers and the re­port­ing of all sales, guns will con­tinue to flow into Chicago from ir­re­spon­si­ble deal­ers in the sub­urbs and from states with looser laws.

Na­tional trend

Ex­perts also point to fac­tors such as the

COVID-19 pan­demic, the re­ces­sion and the na­tional back­lash against po­lice tac­tics in the wake of the death of Ge­orge Floyd be­neath a po­lice of­fi­cer’s knee.

The pan­demic may ac­tu­ally be dis­cour­ag­ing some sorts of crime, such as rob­beries and bur­glar­ies. There are fewer peo­ple out­doors to rob and fewer houses to bur­glar­ize when so many of us are stay­ing at home.

But, the ex­perts con­jec­ture, the clos­ing of schools and churches likely has re­sulted in a soft­en­ing of so­cial con­trols on crim­i­nal be­hav­ior. And it is a prob­lem made worse by a greater sense of alien­ation among po­lice of­fi­cers — and a greater dis­trust of the po­lice.

Cer­tainly, that ap­pears to be the case in Chicago, though lev­els of alien­ation and dis­trust were high even be­fore the pan­demic and the cur­rent protests.

On Mon­day, Po­lice Supt. David Brown stressed the hard work of of­fi­cers in com­bat­ing the vi­o­lence. He sin­gled out for praise the “brave work” of de­tec­tives who have re­cov­ered dozens of il­le­gal firearms in re­cent weeks, in­clud­ing at a gang fu­neral.

But there is a gen­eral be­lief in Chicago, we must add, that the po­lice are ly­ing down on the job, as re­flected in lower num­bers of ar­rests, traf­fic stops and street con­tacts.

Cops fed up

Rank-and-file of­fi­cers, we are told, are fed up with polic­ing re­forms that, they be­lieve, limit their abil­ity to do their jobs. They are fu­ri­ous that crit­ics have por­trayed them as racists and thugs in the af­ter­math of Floyd’s death. And they dread the idea of be­ing caught on video do­ing what they be­lieve to be ap­pro­pri­ate po­lice work — such as get­ting phys­i­cal with an of­fender to make an ar­rest — that oth­ers might call ex­ces­sive force.

It does not help that John Catan­zara Jr., pres­i­dent of the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice in Chicago, has ex­ploited those fears and politi­cized ev­ery dis­agree­ment with City Hall.

Catan­zara has threat­ened to kick out of the union any of­fi­cer seen “tak­ing a knee” in sol­i­dar­ity with Black Lives Mat­ter demon­stra­tors — a threat that has not gone down well with many Black of­fi­cers and oth­ers. He wrote a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump last month in which he in­vited the help of fed­eral troops and called Mayor Lori Light­foot a “com­plete fail­ure.”

Light­foot, for her part, has both de­fended and swat­ted down the po­lice, but not al­ways with a sense of pro­por­tion. In June, when an of­fi­cer flipped his mid­dle finger at a group of pro­test­ers, the mayor said the cop should be fired.

Fired? For flip­ping some­body the bird? In Chicago?

A mat­ter of trust

We re­main com­mit­ted to the cause of po­lice re­form in Chicago. We re­ject the no­tion that bet­ter po­lice prac­tices, more re­spect­ful of civil lib­er­ties, are an­ti­thet­i­cal to ef­fec­tive po­lice work. On the con­trary, they are es­sen­tial to re­build­ing com­mu­nity trust, the foun­da­tion of po­lice work.

The Chicago po­lice over the week­end ar­rested a sus­pect in the killing of young Ja­nari Ricks.

Some­body from the neigh­bor­hood, trust­ing the cops, dropped them a line.

That’s a big part of what it’s go­ing to take to beat back vi­o­lent crime in Chicago: The po­lice and ev­ery neigh­bor­hood work­ing to­gether, on the ba­sis of trust, led by a mayor who seeks to bring out the best in us.

PRO­VIDED

Nine-year-old Ja­nari Ricks was shot and killed about 6 p.m. on Fri­day as he and friends were play­ing in the 900 block of North Cam­bridge Av­enue.

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