Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer Open Letter
February 11, 2013
Violence is a serious issue that has a lasting effect on our community. It’s not just the shock of a victim or the loss to their family, but the effect that a tragedy has on the fabric of a neighborhood. Whenever there is a shooting in Chatham, the effects last months after the incident, due to the fact that our 50-year plus residents are beginning to feel insecure in an area once referred to as “Mayberry” (from the Andy Griffith Show) by the police. The community has a part to play. This is why I am invested in promoting our community groups, block clubs and CAPS meetings as a way for communities to take an active role in their safety. I also support the use of residential Special Service Areas (SSAs) particularly for safety as a method of homeowners stepping up to take responsibility for general safety against opportunity crimes from people in the community. However, I also believe that there are steps the City must take:
- Make a plan to hire more police officers. It does not go unnoticed by many in my community that when crime breaks out downtown you see multiple police standing outside guarding the Magnificent Mile. While the budget informs us that this is not possible for the entire city, current police strategies acknowledge that many of our most violent crimes are in response to a previous act of violence. We need the ability to provide regular police service while still sending extra officers into an area that has recently been shook by violence. We also need more officers at desk jobs, especially as it relates to intelligence gathering initiatives. It is imperative that we have police that are surveying social media sites and the internet, as a large number of crimes can be traced back to conversations that were public online for the world to see.
- Common Sense Gun Reform for the Inner City. I am glad to see some movement on this from the Mayor and Cook County Board President Preckwinkle. I fully support the idea that people should have to register and title guns, not only in the city of Chicago, but the entire nation. Legal owners register cars, real estate, etc. and I believe that guns should be no different. But at the same time we need to increase the penalties for carrying unregistered weapons and for discharging unregistered weapons. Shooting an unregistered weapon should be a felony and come with multiple years of jail time. This has proved to be successful in other municipalities and it is necessary to break some of the street gun culture in Chicago.
- Strengthen the poverty safety net for children. The fact is that many of the largest problems come from children who are effectively orphans. They are living in squatter homes and are easier victims to fall prey to charismatic older gang figures that are looking to create an army of child soldiers to build their personal stature. When we have more children in a stable and loving environment, we have fewer shooters on our streets. But as a government we do not see these children until they have shot someone, and that is unacceptable. Some parents are overwhelmed and some are irresponsible, but the greater community should not have to accept violence because of personal failures. We must stabilize the young people before they get lost.
- Cooperation between the police and community. Recognizing that the escalating levels of violence in our communities is a serious issue, I believe that one major step to reduce crime would be better cooperation between the Black community and the law enforcement community. In that way we present action steps that can and should be taken immediately to foster better relations between our community and law enforcement. In order to accomplish this, we must demand that all officers, employees and associates of the Chicago Police Department who have been found by the torture commission to have participated in the torture of citizens of Chicago should be removed from the payroll. We are aware of at least one current officer, and if there are any others their ties must be severed immediately. It sends a detrimental signal to our communities when criminals are not only allowed to be free but are still subsidized by city of Chicago tax dollars.
I have no illusion that this will be easy, but this is the job for us as elected officials to make our neighborhoods safe. We have serious challenges, and legitimate budget hurdles, but we must begin to make aggressive moves on all fronts for the betterment of our city. Police, community groups, mentors and advocates are all working hard, but there are tools that the government can give to support this fight. And we must win this fight.