Leading by Example in the Fight Against Gun Violence

Chicago CRED

What Chicago can learn from big-city mayors who successfully lowered gun violence.

Chicago CRED and Emerson Collective managing partner Arne Duncan (left) with five former big-city mayors at the Cities Striving for Peace panel discussion • Duncan and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker • Former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu • Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa • Landrieu and former Washington, D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty • Former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter and former Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges • Marshall Hatch, Jr., executive director of the MAAFA Redemption Project • Audrey Wright, president of the Peace Warriors group at North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago • Billy Moore, of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network • Ric Estrada, CEO of Metropolitan Family Services.

“We are the anomaly. We have to do some things very differently,” said former U.S. Education Secretary and Chicago CRED and Emerson Collective managing partner Arne Duncan of the epidemic of gun violence that has long plagued the Windy City. The sources of the city’s most intractable problem are complex and multilayered, but their effect is clear: Gun violence is destroying Chicago’s communities, particularly among young African American men. In 2018, Chicago had more homicides than any of the other 10 largest cities in the U.S. In fact, Chicago is seven times more violent than New York and 3.5 times more violent than Los Angeles when measured by homicides per 100,000 residents. The effects of those statistics are wide-reaching. Violence makes it difficult for children to go to school and play outside. It breaks up friendships and families. It stops short incredibly promising lives, and traumatizes those who live through it. It is, without doubt, a civic crisis; and yet it is not unsolvable, a fact underscored by former leaders of five large American cities who met on February 15 for a first-of-its-kind gathering to share real-life stories about combatting gun violence. The event, “Cities Striving for Peace,” was hosted by Chicago CRED and inVEST Chicago, whose stated goal is to reduce the number of homicides in the city to under 400 by 2020, from as high as 795 in 2016. (That would be the lowest number of homicides in Chicago since 1965.)

The five former mayors—Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, and Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C.—joined Emanuel, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Duncan, and other community partners in discussing the strategies that helped make significant dents in violent crime in their cities. A common thread was viewing the problem through a holistic lens, rather than solely a law-enforcement one. Villaraigosa, whose tenure as mayor of Los Angeles coincided with a 49 percent drop in violent crime, spoke about opening an academy for former gang members and instituting a “Summer Night Lights” program to bring neighbors together in their public parks. Fenty and Landrieu, both of whom oversaw significant drops in the homicide rate, pointed to education as the key to combatting gun violence. Hodges stressed the importance of seeking community input in crafting solutions, and Nutter highlighted efforts to help ex-convicts reenter society more easily, including incentivizing employers to hire “returning citizens.”

There are some encouraging signs in Chicago: The city is still orders of magnitude more violent than its big-city brethren, but homicides have dropped there each of the past three years, from 795 to 653 to 561 in 2018. The forum was an opportunity to acknowledge the work that’s already being done in the community through relationship-building, mentorship, and job training. Marshall Hatch Jr., executive director of the MAAFA Redemption Project; Ric Estrada, CEO of Metropolitan Family Services; and Billy Moore, a life coach with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network shared their stories of hope and resilience with an audience of 1,500 students, parents, faith leaders, community builders, counselors, nonprofit workers, life coaches, and other Chicagoans deeply invested in the city’s future. Among the most powerful moments of the event was a speech by 18-year-old Audrey Wright, the president of the Peace Warriors group at North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago‘s westside. Wright, who lost her mother, father, and brother in the space of a year, described making “condolence runs” for students at her school when someone they know has been killed by gun violence. The previous year, they made 178 such runs—out of 183 schooldays. “What is it going to take for the city to wake up and realize that if we don’t do something now, the future that you all are looking for now won’t be there?“ she said. “If we can do it, so can you, and so can the city of Chicago.“