Two weeks ago, 3-year-old Jaquan Reed was shot and killed at a relative’s home on Chicago’s West Side. Authorities are still investigating the incident, but shootings involving mostly Black children are no longer rare in the Windy City. Within the current academic year, 36 Chicago-area students were killed. ESSENCE.com spoke to Phillip Jackson, a well-known political activist in the city, and founder of Black Star Project, a Chicago-based community outreach group, about what is being done to end the senseless shootings involving children.
ESSENCE.com: There have been so many shootings and deaths. Please tell us what’s happening in Chicago?
JACKSON: This is a national catastrophe that is happening while we as a country do nothing. We’re asking for national attention. This is a pandemic. We will not be able to solve this problem in Chicago unless they can solve this same problem in Houston and other cities.
ESSENCE.com: The nation’s first Black president is from Chicago. And you still do not feel like there is enough attention placed on this problem?
JACKSON: Newspapers from all over the world have come to our offices this past week to say, “What is happening in President Barack Obama’s backyard?” And 75 percent of the children murdered here in Chicago happened within eight miles of President Obama’s former house. So if he doesn’t respond as President, he needs to respond as a resident.
ESSENCE.com: What has been the police response?
JACKSON: They’ve put together a 400-unit gang SWAT team. They’re trying to match guns with the gangs. But with all of that they can’t stop one murder because they’re approaching it from the wrong way.
ESSENCE.com: What is the right way to approach it?
JACKSON: Instill strong families and strong communities. Build strong parenting groups. Do you know what has been the best mentoring organization in the United States of America is? Street gangs.
ESSENCE.com: In other cities, where there is a lot of gang violence, like Baltimore, there are regular people in the community coming together and trying to fix it. What are regular people doing about this in Chicago?
JACKSON: First of all, they’re raising their voices. Number two, they’re rallying, they’re marching, and they’re organizing. That’s what this effort is going to take. Number three, they’re engaging in recreational programs. So there is more happening at the grassroots level than at the federal level. But those people cannot succeed without support. And that’s why we’re asking President Obama to bring his resources.
ESSENCE.com: What is the mind-set of Chicago youth with all of these horrendous acts of violence occurring?
JACKSON: Hopelessness, desperation, anger, they live in America. They see how America takes care of the whole world but won’t take care of them in the communities in which they live.