Groups pledge $75 million to address violence and its root causes in Chicago

CHICAGO — Sadly, violence tallies are regularly reported as the week begins in Chicago. This past weekend, gun violence left four killed and another 16 injured.

Among the dead, a 49-year-old-woman reportedly visiting from out of town was standing on a front porch near 97th Street and Dobson Street early Saturday when she was shot in the head by a stray bullet.

During a recent news conference, recently elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot placed part of the blame on economics.

"We all know that a lot of what we’re seeing are crimes of poverty," Lightfoot said. "We know in many of these neighborhoods there isn’t any real legitimate economic activity and to the extent that that continues to be the case we’re going to see violence."

But poverty is just one of many issues driving gun violence in Chicago, including lack of education, mental health issues and poor housing.

With a new mayor comes renewed talks of getting at the root causes of gun violence, rather than trying to arrest our way out, in part by calling on those with deep pockets to get involved.

As a senior program officer at the MacArthur Foundation, Tawa Mitchell hands out millions of dollars in grant money to organizations dedicated to addressing the root causes of gun violence.

"If you don’t have food on the table, if you don’t have electricity in your home or running water; and this is not a Third World country so to speak, we’re talking about right here in Chicago," Mitchell said.

The MacArthur Foundation is one of more than 40 philanthropic groups, foundations and individuals that make up the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. Together, they have pledged $75 million over three years to combat gun violence in Chicago, focusing their efforts on communities driving the violence.

"It’s important to us because to get a more equitable and just Chicago we have to get money to those who need it the most, and so for us that means solving the gun violence problem," Mitchell said. "We can’t do that alone."

One initiative is a strategy that’s been used before: using former gang members to reach out to those pulling the triggers to get them to turn their lives around.

"In the neighborhoods where we have an intensive street outreach and conflict resolution, we have seen a drop in those communities, a decrease in gun violence," Mitchell said.

Partnership data shows in the two years they’ve been doing this work there’s been a 25 percent decrease in shootings in seven of the nine communities they’ve focused on, and homicides are down 33 percent in eight of them. The partnership is also offering intensive mental health and job training services to people most likely to pull the trigger or become a victim of gun violence.

"This isn’t about hugging a thug and giving all these people a hand out... but we do need to have the structures and systems in place to support all families," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said their research has found gang activity plays a role in gun violence, but a lot of the conflicts are personal in nature. She adds there’s no silver bullet, and there’s no single right answer.

"This is all of our problems, if we want guns off the street, if we want people not to engage in violence then we can help them redirect lives, see their new purpose and we can give them opportunities and a perspective on life that they haven’t had," Mitchell said.

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