Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church at a social justice protest on the Dan Ryan on July 17, 2018 in Chicago. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

CHICAGO—The fear and anxiety of being the next victim of an unforeseen shooting is unfortunately what thousands in Chicago deal with daily.

As of June 8, there have been 13 people killed in the city by gunfire in the month, reports the Chicago Sun-Times Homicide Tracker. This year there had been 231 victims of gun violence by June 8. Last year, there were 648 victims; and in 2021, Chicago saw its highest murder rate in six years with a total of 761.

Although not a new reality for Chicagoans, it is one that can be changed.

“We are in this madness of [a] love affair with guns in America; it’s become a part of our wardrobe,” said Father Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church on the city’s South Side. He started “Cash for Guns” buyback where anyone who returns a working gun receives $100, and $200 for assault rifles.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson

“That’s just one very, very small piece. We take guns here anytime, seven days a week. We do that because I see there are different moments when young people say, ‘I want to make a change,’” the Chicago pastor told The Final Call. “If you want to get rid of a gun, we offer them help. … Guns, as long as we have them, become the first line of defense.”

During “Cash for Guns” on May 22, 160 guns were turned in.

Mayor Brandon Johnson referred to the city’s gun violence during a May 23 council meeting, calling it a result of “community disinvestment, poverty, and trauma that our city has struggled with far too long.”

The council meeting followed an intensely violent Memorial Day weekend in which 53 people were shot, 11 fatally. Last year, 52 people were shot and nine killed over the Memorial Day weekend, reported local news. The mayor posted on Twitter his visits with city departments and youth to help build programs for the summer.

“It’s important for young people to have access to programs to ensure their safety during the summer months and beyond, and we can only be successful when we all work together,” the mayor tweeted.

Pastor Victoria Brady of ABJ Community Services works with youth through art in the community. Photo: Naba’a Muhammad

Mayor Johnson did not respond to multiple attempts by The Final Call for comment.

Student Minister Ishmael Muhammad, the National Assistant to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, told The Final Call that self-knowledge is key to addressing the violence in the city, particularly in the Black, Brown and poor communities.

“Our people have to be introduced to a new mind, new thought, new way of thinking about themselves. Jesus said, ‘He who hates his brother is a murderer.’ So, the self-hatred, the hopelessness, and the lack of knowledge of self that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Minister offers us is what is missing,” he stated.

Adults in the community must also accept responsibility for the conditions impacting the reality facing many young people, he continued. “They are reflections and (are) manifesting the great disappointment they have in the home as they come from broken homes, neglected and not loved with that quality of love that makes them value themselves. So, we can’t speak down to our people.

We can’t speak at them, we have to speak to them, and give them an ear and allow them to express themselves even if what they express is against us but allow them to voice their disappointment, voice their resentment, voice their bitterness.”

Student Min. Ishmael Muhammad added that youth need “avenues of expression.” “Children want to be heard, children want to be listened to and not judged by what they say,” he continued.

Chicago-based hip-hop artist Goalden Chyld also believes having a knowledge of self is important.

“I would argue that attempting to quell the violence in the city would have a lot to do with changing the culture and starting to tell our people our history through our culture, whether it’s through music, art, film [and] dance. A lot of the violence is rooted in us not knowing who we are, what we’re capable of, what we came from, what our history was prior to slavery, so we’ve accepted this ideology that tells us to hate one another,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s really a revolution without a culture revolution.”

Chicago Dan Ryan protest

Community activist Victoria Brady, who also is a pastor at ABJ Civic Arts Center Restoring Hope Ministries International, said Mayor Johnson’s effort to ease violence must be backed with resources needed to address root causes of violence such as poverty and homelessness. The divide between law enforcement and the community must be addressed, she said.

“Mayor Johnson should lead the charge of building strong coalitions with a range of youth, leaders, and organizations. This includes those that may not be well known. There is so much great and impactful work taking place in Chicago There are true champions of change right here. Yet, the media hardly ever reports it,” she said.

Student Min. Ishmael Muhammad said Mayor Johnson has good intentions, but he’s surrounded by Satanic forces that really don’t want to stem the tide of violence. If they truly wanted that, he said, they would bring those to the table who have proven effective programs that positively influence the minds of Black and Brown people, and specifically the minds of Black and Brown youth.

“It is our hope that the mayor will look at the Nation of Islam and bring us to the table, for we have a record in the Chicago Public Schools that, whenever we are allowed and permitted to address our children, within the 30 minutes or hour that we speak to them, there’s an immediate change in their behavior. They leave with what we share with them and for the rest of the school day, the teachers and faculty have noted a change in the students,” he said.