Opinion

News on Gun Violence is More than News Headlines

Photo courtesy of Zelda Galewsky and Ellie Meija

We cannot go a single day without hearing or reading about shootings in Chicago.

“Man shot to death blocks from his South Side home”… “Man shot dead in West Garfield Park gas station”… “Man dies after found shot multiple times in alley.”

The headlines above belong to articles written by one of Loyola’s own staff members.

To try and understand the trends regarding gun violence, I sat down with John Carpenter, a communications professor at Loyola. Carpenter worked for the Chicago Sun-Times for five years as a crime reporter and was also the editor of Homicide Watch Chicago in 2013 prior to coming to Loyola.

By talking to Chicago cops, the families and victims of gun violence and community members, Carpenter got to look those directly affected in the eyes and hear their stories.

From these fieldwork experiences, he has gained a firsthand account to how he views gun violence and its potential cure.

Carpenter said that when he first started crime reporting, he remembered it as mainly bank robberies involving guns. As he continued on with his crime reporting career, the bank robberies evolved into murders and gang related shootings.
“Covering crime in Chicago, you quickly realize how easy it is for gang members to get guns — really anyone [to get guns] — but I remember thinking that there were a lot of shootings,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter believes that in Chicago, bullying has heightened among young kids and getting picked on has resulted in kids using guns as a threat and means of protection.

Through his reporting, he also witnessed the trends in the victims of gun violence. He categorized the victims into three categories: gang bangers, peripheral gang members and the innocent.

The gang bangers are usually affected by gun violence when fighting with gang members of opposing gangs or when a drug deal or turf war goes wrong.

Peripheral gang members are members who are technically in the gang but not active criminals. Oftentimes, they view it as safer to be in the gang than to be out.

The most devastating group of victims is the innocent community members who happen to get caught in the crossfire. Chicago is considered home to a diverse group of people, but with the rise in gun-violence, the sense of home is threatened for those trying to live their everyday life.

Those minding their own business and taking advantage of all the positives Chicago has to offer get stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the neighborhood they originally moved into has been taken over and tarnished by a violent crowd.

Residents were able to paint a different image of how gun violence has grown and changed the neighborhood they originally moved into.

“The bigger issue is that we need to be able to have an adult conversation about guns in Chicago and America in general, and right now we can’t have that conversation. When people hear the term ‘gun-control,’ many instantly turn defensive and aggressive. They feel threatened that you want to take their guns away from them,” Carpenter explained.

As a result, there’s no open dialogue. The conversation is shut down before it even begins.

When we read news articles about the violence we tend to instantly pick a side. We defend our side endlessly without listening to what other points of views have to offer.

In other cases we often read the headline and we feel a certain emotion or opinion, but we don’t act upon or express anything beyond that.

The conversation begins with the news and media, but for there to be change, the reader must continue to carry the torch and promote and advocate for it.

Pay attention to the news, call your senators and voice your opinions, vote for policies you think can help lower the gun-violence rate and create a community of trust.

However, without a willingness to listen, understand and have a civil conversation, any open dialogue and change are non-existent.

The only way to reach a solution is to start the conversation. If we are not willing to allow all opinions and ideas to be heard, we are ignoring the voices of a certain demographic gun violence effects.

As Carpenter mentioned, “With the constant news of gun violence in Chicago, people can and do argue they need a gun in order to protect themselves from the violence.”

Police feel they need to better protect themselves.There are many who are heroic, act fairly and follow Chicago Police Department (CPD)’s motto of serve and protect.

Unfortunately, it’s a large police academy. Professor Carpenter realized that there are always going to be some bad apples who are prejudice and who have violence issues themselves.

With the raised awareness of gun violence in Chicago, the police force has become extra sensitive, according to Carpenter.

The tension between cops and the communities they surveil and protect negatively affects both sides. Rather than having a same team mentality, the cops and community members feed into a biased atmosphere of one versus the other. It makes it hard for cops to do their job because the community members are fearful and untrusting of them and vice versa.

This negative relationship between cops and the community has created the “No Snitch Code” that Carpenter experienced a lot throughout his reporting. He believes many of the crimes he reported on went unsolved for this reason.

The “No Snitch Code” stems from two places: First, the community is not trusting of the police. They do not see police as protection but rather as invasive. Second, the community does not want to snitch in fear of being hurt, or worse, being killed for talking to the cops.

In recent years, police officers have been able to use sophisticated data to get answers to lowering the rates of gun violence.

As Carpenter explained, “It is sort of the Big Brother mentality. We know you’ve done these crimes. We know from statistics that you are likely to do more. We are watching you.”

Police are also working to improve the community-and cop-relationship.

By being aware of these characteristics of people likely to possess guns, police are better able to directly offer communities assistance in protecting and preventing gun crimes.

The same fears are felt from within the community, the police and the government.
As the heart of America, Chicago is working toward pumping security and harmony into its streets and the minds of its residents.

As Professor Carpenter said, “700-some odd murders in town, that’s a little less than 2 a day, and a lot of them are at 2:00 a.m. when the city is supposed to be peacefully asleep.”

Although it’s not a perfect system, it’s a start.

The reputation and safety of our home relies on ending the gun violence epidemic.

Chicagoans deserve to sleep soundly at night and wake up without the haunting headlines of shootings in their newspapers.

If we want to end the violence, we can’t let the conversation end with the headlines. Let’s be proactive and talk about what really matters.

Opinion Editor