• Alyssa Collins

How Chicago Moms are Ending Gun Violence

The Englewood based organization Mothers Against Senseless Killings was called to the far North Side of Chicago after an influx of gang related violence erupted in Rogers Park. The north side community, not just mothers, came together at Pub 626 located at 1406 W. Morse Avenue in early November to see how these south side tactics could translate up north. The meeting started in the dimly lit Teal Room, where the organization's members in bright pink t-shirts called upon the residents of Rogers Park to explain how this violence has affected them.

“I write a blog, it’s a mom blog,” said Shelia Quirke. “I’m raising two kids in West Rogers Park and I write about gun violence, and it’s just getting closer and closer.”

The Rogers Park and Englewood mothers are a part of a growing movement of mothers and women taking the lead in curbing violence on their neighborhood streets in Chicago, New York and St. Louis, Missouri. The push is similar to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaign (MADD) that shifted the social expectation of driving responsibly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010, every two minutes a person was injured in a drunk driving related accident. MADD reported that since their founding in 1980, the amount of deaths caused by drunk driving has decreased by 50 percent. This puts into perspective the correlation between community involvement and societal change.

"There are a number of advantages to community engagement. One of course is that community members know what’s going on in their community to a much greater extent than outsiders,” said Susan Morrel-Samuels, former managing director of the Michigan Youth Prevention Center.

She went on to explain that in order for these organizations to be effective, they must have a base level of trust, transparency, communication and commitment. They can gain these elements by demonstrating “they’re not just coming in to do a quick project and then leave,” said Morrel-Samuels.

Among the mothers at Pub 626 was Tamar Manasseh who started the MASK organization after the death of Hadiya Pendleton. Pendleton was a 15-year-old girl from the South Side of Chicago who was fatally shot in 2013 while talking with friends at a neighborhood park. Manasseh was so rattled by the news, because as a mother she realized that she needed to do more to protect her children. During Manasseh’s quest to make a change in her community, she decided that since teenagers hate to be watched, that’s exactly what she would do, and police agree.

“They like to move in the shadows and in secrecy,” said 24th District Sgt. Shawn Sisk. “When the parks are packed with families and kids and bike riders and joggers, the gang bangers generally stay away.”

Manasseh encouraged Englewood mothers to step out of their houses and be seen. That simple act created a whole new dynamic to their community, she said. In the hotspot corner on a block in Englewood, moms from the community and neighboring communities came together and sat outside each day from summer break for Chicago Public Schools through Labor Day, said Manasseh. She explained that they’re out there grilling food, playing catch, playing music and having a blast with kids who may otherwise be getting themselves into trouble. She went on to explain that this is what worked for them in Englewood, but each MASK chapter is different. It is up to the community of Rogers Park to figure out what works for them.

“For all I know everyone out there could have a gun, but the idea is to convince them not to use it,” Manasseh told a room of about 35 residents at the MASK meeting in Rogers Park. “We haven’t had so much as a fist-fight in three years on a corner in Englewood.” The corner Manasseh is referring to is West 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue, which used to be one of the neighborhood’s most violent blocks.

Between Oct. 18 - Nov. 17 violent crimes per 1,000 people in Englewood were down 10 percent from the previous year. Although, Englewood still ranks 10 out of 77 Chicago communities for violent crime reports during this period, according to the Chicago Tribune. Property crime in this area was up 20 percent from last year and quality of life crimes were up 30 percent during the same period.

Rogers Park has seen a sudden increase in gun violence and gang activity in the past few months. Between Sept. 27–Oct. 27, violent crimes per 1,000 people in Rogers Park were up 60 percent from last year, property crimes were up 40 percent, and quality of life crimes increased 30 percent from the previous year, according to Chicago Data Portal records. Of those crimes was the tragic shooting of 64-year-old middle school teacher Cynthia Trevillion who was shot and killed while walking down Glenwood Avenue near the Morse Red Line Station on the evening of Oct. 13. Trevillion and her husband were walking to catch a train before a drive-by shooting struck the beloved Chicago Waldorf math teacher. The community reacted in shock as students and staff underwent grief counseling following the tragic events, reported the Chicago Tribune. Just hours before the fatal shooting of Trevillion, a 15-year-old boy was shot and wounded in the Rogers Park area for refusing to join a gang.

At the meeting, Manasseh commended the effort of the Rogers Park community, “You guys didn’t just ring your hands and say ‘oh my god I need extra locks for my door,’ people were saying what can we do? Now what can we do? That’s what this is, this is fighting back.”

Instead of admitting defeat, the residents of Rogers Park took action and organized. They organized an anti-violence rally and when that broke down due to infighting, they reached out to others who had been successful.

Positive loitering, a tactic implemented in an effort to discourage violence, is the act of law abiding citizens taking over a location in their community This sends a message to criminals that the community is taking the neighborhood back. The organized rally intended to take action against the surge of violence turned into a violent event in itself. At least 300 people attended this meeting at Morse Avenue and Glenwood Avenue on the Monday following the shooting, reported CBS. The meeting that started out as an encouragement to get involved in the community quickly turned hostile when positive loitering was accused of being racist, according to CBS. Positive loitering has been put on hold until they can find a new way to introduce the idea, said CAPS beat facilitator John Warner. The residents of Rogers Park called on Manasseh and her organization via social media and email after their anti-violence rally turned south.

“People often ask, how do you keep them from shooting each other when you’re not there? I don’t,” Manasseh said to the Rogers Park community. “They don’t do it because they don’t want to. They don’t want to die. They don’t have a death wish. They don’t want to be killers. They don’t want to live the way they live. What we offer is an alternative.”

Although August saw a decline in homicides in Rogers Park, October spiked with 42 violent crimes, 167 property crimes and 53 quality of life crimes whereas the previous year saw only 31 violent crimes, 111 property crimes and 43 quality of life crimes within the same period, reported the Chicago Tribune. According to Rogers Park Alderman Joe Moore, homicides were down 75 percent as of mid August with only one homicide this year compared to four in the same period last year. Shootings were down 43 percent from last year and down 60 percent from two years ago. The fall, specifically October, altered those statistics with the sudden uptick in violence.

“Gun violence is a complex, complicated, dirty business with roots in generations of racism and poverty, aided and abetted by gun laws designed to benefit gun manufacturers at the expense of public safety,” Alderman Moore wrote in a press release shortly after the tragic shooting. “No single “plan” can fix this and no combination of strategies will improve things overnight.”

Concerned residents voiced their grievances at St. Jerome’s Perish following the tragic shooting at the Rogers Park CAPS meeting. A room of about 45 people sitting on hard plastic chairs discussed the problems and solutions to Rogers Park gun violence.

“Everyone has worked extremely hard to get this neighborhood moving in the right direction. I’d hate to see a tragedy start to spiral us down a path we’ve worked so hard to get away from,” said 24th District Sgt. Sisk at a Rogers Park CAPS meeting.

Following the autumn shootings, Moore asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel to add more police officers to the neighborhood. CAPS meetings continue to be an important aspect of the community, but gun violence lingers.

This idea of gun violence is nothing new to Chicago. In 2015, Chicago had seen 2,939 shooting victims and 468 homicides, according to the Chicago Tribune- a 13 percent increase in both categories from the previous year. These trends prompted some to nickname the third largest city of America, “Chiraq,” and warranted the 2015 Spike Lee movie, “Chiraq,” which focused on gang violence on Chicago’s South Side. The following year, 2016, was the deadliest year in Chicago for three decades, reported Time Magazine. In 2016 alone there were 4,368 shooting victims in the city according to the Chicago Tribune, and 762 homicides compared to New York City’s 998 shooting victims and 334 homicides according to New York Daily News. These trends continue into 2017 where the city has seen 3,357 shooting victims through Dec. 2, reported the Chicago Tribune.

Although, gun violence is not found solely in Chicago. In fact, St. Louis, Missouri has seen a surge in gun violence in the past two years. As of October of 2017, homicides are up 65 percent from last year, according to the St. Louis Dispatch. This spike caused organizations such as Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, based out of St. Louis, Missouri, to come together to protest legislation and educate their communities.

“Missouri has one of the weakest gun laws in the country in terms of gun violence prevention or common sense gun regulations,” said Lise Bernstein, President of Women’s Voices. “We’re an open carry and a conceal carry state and you no longer need a permit to own a gun in Missouri nor do you need any training.”

The Mothers Against Senseless Killings organization seeks to deal with this widespread issue of gun violence on a local scale. They have MASK chapters in Englewood, Hyde Park, Lawndale and Staten Island, New York. Manasseh said she hopes to expand further in the coming year, starting with Rogers Park. The November meeting was one of eight meetings that will be held to help the north side start their own MASK chapter. The next meeting is scheduled for the second week of January.

“I feel like Rogers Park is a special community, people live here because they like the diversity, because they like the atmosphere, and no one wants to see [gun violence] happening,” said Rogers Park mother Céline Tweedie.

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