Feb 5th, 2020
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We’ve been brainstorming tweaks to the format and content of the Weekly newsletter in order to better serve you. If you can spare 3-5 minutes, we have put together a very short list of questions that we’ll keep here for one more edition. A deep thanks to those of you who have already responded.
What does it mean to be a survivor of gun violence in Chicago? It’s something I’ve been wrestling with for a while now, long before my time as a reporter at The Trace. In the summer of 2019, I was at a friend’s birthday party when we witnessed a drive-by shooting at a park on the city’s West Side. The incident stayed in my mind for a long time. Mostly, I wondered what that shooting meant to everyone else who was at the park that day — the kids playing softball, the families barbecuing, the couples on dates. When the shots rang out, everything stopped. We all ducked to the ground and called 911.
This personal experience guided my monthslong reporting on gun violence survivors in Chicago. I learned through interviews with dozens of residents, advocates, and officials that the impact of shootings reaches far beyond the shooter and the victim. “I think a survivor is anyone who has been affected by violence, directly or indirectly,” says Bertha Purnell, who became a victims advocate after her son was killed in 2017. “Murders, rapes, [and] domestic violence don’t just affect one person, it affects community. We’re all survivors.”
It’s that ripple effect that we hope to capture in our new series, “Aftershocks,” which we published this week along with three Chicago-based newsrooms: Block Club Chicago, La Raza, and the Chicago Sun-Times. The first story looks at how gun violence has affected the residents of Roseland, a historic Black community on the South Side. People — even folks who live on the same block — respond to trauma in many ways. The experiences in Roseland are emblematic of how these responses play out across the city. The story, which you can read here, includes portraits of the neighborhood and its residents.
Next up is a monthslong investigation into Illinois’ Crime Victim Compensation Program. It’s a decades-old service that reimburses victims of violent crime and their families for injury-related expenses, ranging from mental health counseling to funeral costs. We found that in recent years, the program approved fewer than 4 in 10 of the nearly 15,000 reimbursement claims that were submitted. What’s more, very few people seem to be aware that this type of support even exists. You can read that story here. Along with that piece, we published a guide for applying for victim compensation, building on what we learned from people who applied and the agencies that run the program.
I hope you’ll read these stories and share them with anyone who could benefit from this coverage. Please share your thoughts with me once you do. I’m especially interested in how gun violence has affected you, regardless of where you live. If you’ve applied for compensation, I’d love to hear what your experience was like. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @lakeidrachavis.
Lastly, this project was produced for the USC Annenberg Center for Health
Journalism’s 2020 Data Fellowship. I’d like to thank them for this opportunity. — Lakeidra Chavis, reporter
WHAT TO KNOW THIS WEEK
Within days of launching a multiagency gun violence prevention center last year, Chicago police expanded beyond the mission of stopping summer shootings and started monitoring protesters responding to the murder of George Floyd, according to documents obtained by Southside Weekly. One internal briefing on August 15 was devoted entirely to protests in the city on the same weekend that 64 people were shot, seven of them fatally, and it’s not clear how much impact the center had on its original goal of preventing shootings.
A federal judge found the Air Force “60 percent responsible” for the 2017 shooting at the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, in which a former airman killed 26 people. The Air Force repeatedly failed to submit the perpetrator’s criminal history into a database that would have blocked him from legally buying guns.
A California judge advanced a case brought on behalf of the families of the 2019 Poway synagogue shooting, rejecting claims from Smith & Wesson and San Diego Guns that they could not be held responsible because of the 2005 federal PLCAA law that shields gun businesses from certain lawsuits.
During discovery in its Connecticut Superior Court trial over wrongful marketing of the weapon used in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, Remington turned over thousands of irrelevant pictures and cartoons to the families instead of relevant documents. “There is no possible reasonable explanation for this conduct,” a new complaint reads.
A team of clinicians, researchers, and educators released the first national consensus guidelines on firearm injury educational priorities for health professionals. The guide in the journal Academic Medicine addresses safe gun storage, intimate partner violence, mass violence, police shootings, peer violence, suicide, and unintentional injury.
Tucson said it would ignore Arizona’s new Second Amendment sanctuary law blocking state or local resources from being used to enforce federal gun laws. The state is one of a handful GOP-controlled legislatures — including Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas — that have enacted similar laws this year.
The Fourth of July weekend saw more than 500 shootings nationwide, including nearly 200 people killed and over 550 injured in a 72-hour period starting on July 3, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
SPOTLIGHT ON SOLUTIONS
Like much of the country, New York City saw a huge spike in gun violence and homicides last year. While the state’s biggest city regularly draws the national headlines, the trend is true in other major cities in the state, where gun violence has accelerated at an even faster rate than the Big Apple.
In that context, New York is taking a unique approach: designating gun violence like a natural disaster and issuing an emergency declaration calling the scourge a public health crisis. The new executive order from scandal-plagued Governor Andrew Cuomo would, among other things:
allocate $138.7 million in intervention, prevention, and jobs programs, including summer activities for youth
create a gun violence prevention office as part of the state’s health department and establish a council on reducing gun violence
increase law enforcement presence in communities facing rising violence
require police departments to share data on gun violence
create a new state police task force to cut off gun trafficking into the state
partner with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to improve police-community relations to measure progress of law enforcement reforms across the state
The plan has drawn praise from gun violence prevention groups and advocates for the emphasis on funding for community-led interventions, as well as criticism from law-and-order conservatives in the state.
“Reversing the rise of gun violence requires enormous investment and precise coordination of strategies and resources, and this plan has both,” criminologist Patrick Sharkey told The New York Times.
“Overall, it was a very big, bold announcement and that's a good thing,” criminologist and advocate for community-led solutions Thomas Abt said in a useful reaction thread. “But politicians don't always follow up announcements with concrete action and results. Time will tell.” — Tom Kutsch, newsletter editor
Max Solomon Lewis, 20, was killed when a stray bullet penetrated his subway car window during the commute home from his summer internship. “He was so incredibly caring, loyal and genuine,” said a friend and fellow member of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi at the University of Chicago, where Lewis, a junior, was president. His fraternity launched an online campaign to help cover expenses for friends and family members to attend memorial services in Denver, where Lewis was from. “He was a ball of light,” a friend said. He was one of 104 people shot in Chicago over the July 4th long weekend, 19 of them fatally.
“For decades, America has attempted to address gun violence by directing resources, at, rather than to, communities most impacted by this crisis. We have an opportunity to change that.”
—Eddie Bocanegra, senior director of READI Chicago, Erica Ford, founder of LIFE Camp, Inc. in New York, and Pastor Mike McBride of LIVE FREE in Oakland, writing in Time.
The Weekly Briefing is compiled by Tom Kutsch and Jennifer Mascia.
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