Crime and Criminal Justice in Chicago Event

By Burrell Poe
Coordinator, Chicago Peace Fellows

On Tuesday, March 19, the Chicago Peace Fellows attended a City Club of Chicago luncheon titled, “Crime and Criminal Justice in Chicago: Challenges for the new mayor,” featuring Professor Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The talk covered how Chicago as a city needs to handle the issue of violence.

Dr. Ludwig shared perspective and data to illustrate his understanding of the issue of violence in the city. He started by comparing Chicago to other major cities like New York and Los Angeles and explained that Chicago has historically had higher rates of violence by comparison.

Dr. Jens Ludwig of the Univesity of Chicago Crime Lab shares how violence in Chicago compares to other American city at the March 19, 2019 event at the City Club of Chicago.

The rate of homicides in America has gone through several boom and bust cycles throughout the decades, Ludwig said. Notably, this trend included a huge spike in homicides in the early ‘90s across the US along with a drop in the subsequent years. After the nationwide drop, Los Angeles and New York City’s rates remained low while Chicago saw a huge spike in homicides which peaked in 2016. The difference between the cities are stark and it’s even more shocking when you look at the violence rates per capita between the cities; L.A. and N.Y.C. have much larger populations but much lower rates of violence.

Alex Levesque (from left) shares his experience in violence prevention with Deborah Bennet from the Polk Bros. Foundation and Velvian Boswell.

Ludwig then offered a few explanations for the difference. First, he pointed to the huge disparities of wealth in the city, showing maps that display high rates of poverty on the South and West sides of the city. He then discussed the need for more police to curb the violence, an action step that L.A. and N.Y.C. took to deal with the violence of the early ‘90s. He concluded his talk with a call to action that we view the violence in the city as a crisis.

He answered several questions about his presentation, including two from the Chicago Peace Fellows, Robert Beikman, executive director of the Chicago Alternatives to Incarceration, and Jacqueline Moore, executive director of Agape Works.

Chicago Peace Fellows Pamela Butts (from left), Dawn Hodges and Jeanette Coleman with the Goldin Institute's Oz Ozburn at the March 19, 2019 event at the City Club of Chicago.

Here’s how other Chicago Peace Fellows reflected on the event:

Dawn Hodges, executive administrator of Imani Community Development Corporation: “[Jens Ludwig] really exposed the scope of Chicago's problem. We have a lot of work to do to help our city.”

Jeanette Coleman, executive director of I am My Brother’s Keeper Unity Day:

“I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation in that I am a big proponent for evidence-based practice and was intrigued by the data presented. While it is disheartening to see how violence and poverty have overtaken most of the South and West sides of Chicago, it validates the importance of our work in these communities. I would like to explore more opportunities to reinstate mental health and behavioral health therapy for youth in particular but families/individuals, in general, considering the trauma experienced from exposure to violence, witnessing homicides, children being raised by extended family or in the foster care system due to the impact of substance abuse and violence in the city. If incorporating more police into our practice would help, as was documented in New York, then let's do it! In the meantime, let's equip our families with more coping skills and opportunities to find hopeful outcomes.”

Robin Cline, associate director of Neighborspace: “The presentation was even more of a reminder of what an urgent moment Chicago is in.”

Velvian Boswell, recovery specialist at the Chicago Women’s AIDS Project: “I heard a lot of stats and research on crime and why it’s the main concern from the residents of Chicago. I’m not saying it’s not important. I just believe our black men are angry; not being able to find employment, lack of skills and education is a major problem in the community. Not being able to provide for their families, being caught up in the judicial system, drugs and a lack of economic development have plagued our community with violence. I think the question should be why is there so much crime in our community? People that are producing and feeling good about themselves and are able to provide for their families do not commit crime. I think if we address those issues, crime will not be the main concern.”

Click here to see a video of the event.

Thank you to the Polk Bros. Foundation for your generous support to make it possible for the Chicago Peace Fellows to participate in this thought-provoking and informative presentation at the City Club of Chicago.  

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