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Civil rights leaders should get involved in gang summit: Mitchell

Updated: October 25, 2013 6:23AM



When 13 people are shot in a city park in a predominantly black area of Chicago, we can’t blame the mayor’s office.

We also can’t blame the Chicago Police Department for failing to protect the residents in that community, especially when the mayor has spent more than $42 million in police overtime to patrol the streets.

The only people to blame are the people who are involved in gang-related activity that is often behind the street battles.

It was a miracle that none of the 13 people injured in the Cornell Square Park shooting died of their wounds. But a 3-year-old boy was critically wounded and is still being treated, making this yet another incident where a child has suffered for the transgressions of adults.

Police are describing last Thursday’s attack as gang-related. By Monday night, two men had been charged in connection with the shootings.

But by some accounts, the neighborhood where the mass shooting occurred might as well be in a war zone.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the day before the shooting, dozens of bullets were fired into two homes located nearby.

If this had been a terrorist attack, the National Guard would be patrolling the streets and going door-to-door rounding up illegal weapons.

But while local leaders want more police on the streets, they don’t want to be accused of turning their wards into armed camps.

However, some of these neighborhoods are already armed camps. Young gang members — high on narcotics and alcohol — are firing their illegal guns without any regard for human life.

“The village is sick,” said Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church on the West Side and he is affiliated with the Chicago Chapter of Al Sharpton’s National Network.

“We have fragile families, a failure of religious institutions, a school system that lacks equity, and politicians playing with people’s lives. This is what you get.”

Getting those in leadership positions to come together to address the root of the problem — that is, what to do about armed gangs operating in their wards and districts — has been difficult.

Sharpton was supposed to rent an apartment in the city in September to bring attention to the violence issue, but that has been pushed back until October.

A recent gathering of politicians and community activists resulted in more discussions about the problem but no new solutions.

On Friday, the Rev. Gregory Tatum of Bakersfield, Calif., will try a different tack. Tatum will host a gang summit at the House of Hope on the South Side that kicks off with a ceremonial march to honor the victims of violence.

Tatum, who grew up in now-demolished Cabrini Green at a time when gun violence was a daily occurrence, wants to engage local gang members in the efforts to end the violence.

It is a controversial move that has drawn little support from the city’s civil rights leaders, and the idea has drawn sharp criticism on the Internet.

Although the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Sharpton were invited to participate, both men declined.

That hasn’t stopped Tatum, however.

“I understand the whole city of Chicago is traumatized. That is one reason God put it on my heart to do a summit,” Tatum said. “I had the same fears as young people have today. But today, most of the family structures are broken down and there is a lack of leadership and male role models.”

He believes the problem can be eradicated if churches step up to partner with young men who have gotten caught up in gang life.

“This generation has a disconnect between what is valuable in the black community,” Tatum said.

“What is valuable is the sustaining of the black family. What is not valuable is the eradication and the genocide of your young black brothers.”

Tatum is disappointed that the national civil rights leaders are not on board. Sharpton and Jackson could not be reached for comment.

“I admire them both,” he said. “But this is a national crisis we must all come together to work on.”

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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