Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday declared gun violence a “public health crisis” and pledged to funnel $250 million over three years to reducing and interrupting shootings, a move he said is “about children who are being gunned down among us.”
Along with the executive order making the declaration and the funding, the governor announced the formation of a new state office for firearm violence prevention that will seek to curb gun crimes.
Pritzker was joined by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other city and state elected officials to announce the state’s “next step in the pursuit of violence reduction.”
“Gun violence is devastating communities, neighborhoods, blocks and families. Mothers, fathers, brothers, friends are experiencing senseless tragedies in the deaths and serious injuries of their loved ones,” Pritzker said. “This work is urgent. This is about children who are being gunned down among us as it is about so many others.”
The plan to reduce violence includes a commitment to invest $250 million over the next three years to implement the Reimagine Public Safety Act, a plan meant to “directly reduce and interrupt violence in our neighborhoods,” and create the state’s Office of Firearm Violence Prevention,” the governor said.
The act passed during the Legislature’s fall veto session, which wrapped up last week. It has not yet been signed into law.
The funding for Illinois’ gun violence reduction plan includes federal monies as well as $50 million from the state’s 2022 budget. Pritzker’s administration plans to work with state legislators to earmark $100 million for anti-violence work in the next two fiscal years.
In the next few weeks, the violence prevention office will announce a process for organizations to receive grant funding focused on technical assistance for violence prevention and youth development and intervention, according to a news release on the funds.
Pritzker’s executive order requires state agencies focused on gun violence to work with the new violence prevention office to address the systemic causes around the issue and develop strategies that take into account equity and trauma.
The order also lays out a four-pronged approach to violence prevention that includes intervention programs for high-risk youth, violence prevention services — such as street-based violence interruption work and emotional or trauma-related therapy — after school and summer programming to increase youth school attendance and reduce contact with the criminal justice system and trauma-recovery services for young people.
Lightfoot said she and other leaders have “got to be in concert together.”
This is a long fight, not a short fight,” Lightfoot said. “This is a fight that we must think [about] and reimagine at every single level, be nimble and thinking about how we can help our residents feel safe.”
At an unrelated news conference later in the day, Lightfoot acknowledged that she started treating Chicago violence “like a public health crisis” even before she took office in May 2019 so the declaration “is not new” but the statewide designation is important, she said.
As for what the funds will mean, Lightfoot said “the jury’s out. But it has the potential to really be transformative. … My hope is that a lot of Chicago-based organizations are gonna be able to get access to those grants.”
“We made a commitment that we will provide the technical assistance on the front end so they have the capacity to comply and be competitive and then on the back end to help them realize and utilize those resources,” Lightfoot said.
The first-term mayor is determined to “do everything that we can” to make certain that Chicago-based street outreach and intervention organizations “get access to those funds.”
Shootings have been on the rise this year with at least 630 people fatally shot, and at least 3,165 others wounded in Chicago through Oct. 30, according to an analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times. Through that time, compared to 2020, the city has seen a 9% increase in shooting victims and an almost 69% increase compared to 2019. Those figures put the city on track to have one of its deadliest years since the mid-1990s.
When it comes to community safety, Chicago “can’t just make up a plan on the fifth floor of City Hall and hope for the best,” the mayor said. City officials need to be “deep in with community” residents.
Lightfoot urged the state to “continue to be in conversation” with the city around issues of community safety.
“It can’t be a policy that’s cooked up in Springfield, then spread out to the rest of the state,” Lightfoot said.
State legislation that Pritzker signed earlier this year declared violence a public health problem and tasked the state’s departments of public health and human services with studying how to create a process to identify high-violence areas and infuse them with state dollars to help address the underlying causes of crime and violence. The departments are required to file a report on that process with the General Assembly by the end of the year.
Pritzker pointed to violence in the city as part of the impetus behind the Monday announcement.
“We will do what it takes individually, and collectively, to address the immediate violence on our streets and invest in fighting the underlying causes that create too much despair, too much addiction, too little mental health treatment and too few opportunities,” Pritzker said.
Contributing: Andy Boyle