The issue of gun violence plagues the south and west sides of Chicago, with 2,391 shootings in 2018 (a decline from the 2,777 shootings in 2017) and the Chicago Police Department reporting 24 shootings and 5 murders within the first weekend of April 2019. At the center of this violence, is young black males aged 15-34. They constitute the majority of homicide victims in Chicago although they make up only 4% of the city’s population. There may the misinterpretation of Chicago’s violence resting on the backs of gangs, however, there is intersectionality of multiple factors and history behind the violence in Chicago. Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in America, with a long history or redlining neighborhoods, and has one of the highest levels of concentrated poverty out of all large metropolitan cities in the United States. Shocking statistics of gun violence and fear of Chicago’s streets may be at the forefront of peoples minds when they think of Chicago’s public welfare issues, but the toll gun violence takes on youth and young adults are seldom discussed. While there are widespread media attention and concern of mental health of victims of mass shootings, there is almost no coverage on the psychological toll gun violence takes on youth and families daily in Chicago.
The Psychological Toll of Gun Violence
The effects of gun violence ripples throughout entire communities and one effect that is not discussed as much as it should be is its effect on mental health. Studies have shown that PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a common side effect of gun violence. In youth, this is especially dangerous– PTSD commonly displays symptoms of trauma later in life, such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and other chronic illnesses. Recent studies have shown that chronic stress disorders have effects that reach far beyond the individual who is suffering from PTSD. It can cause epigenetic changes, which alters an individual’s genes and therefore alters a person’s behavior. Chronic stress is not temporary, as its name suggests; it accumulates and gradually changes an individual’s DNA. But these changes to our genes don’t sit idly by in one person’s body. These genetic changes are usually passed down to an individual’s child and can affect the child’s brain development, responses to stress, and their fight, flight, or freeze responses.
Although there is some research being done to better understand the psychological effects of gun violence, there are not nearly enough opportunities to do more research gain more data. Part of the reason research on this topic has been hindered is due to the National Rifle Association (NRA), which lobbied for the Dickey Amendment. The Dickey Amendment was a spending bill which stated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Although the amendment does not explicitly state that CDC research of gun violence was forbidden, following the passing of the Dickey Amendment, Congress lowered the CDC’s budget by the amount it spent on research related to gun violence, sending a direct message to stop researching gun violence and gun violence-related deaths. These actions have prevented the national government from declaring gun violence a public health issue and forces the public to call upon charitable organizations to further research on the effects of gun violence.
What Are People Doing About It?
It is easy to feel discouraged and hopeless regarding the issues of gun violence that surround Chicago, but there are incredible things organizations are doing and things you can do to help alleviate this issue.
The Peace Warriors at North Lawndale College Prep:
This video explains the work the Peace Warriors do and gives a brief glimpse of what the life of a teenager who lives in a community plagued with gun violence goes through.
University of Chicago Urban Crime Lab:
Affiliated with the University of Chicago, the Urban Crime Lab is a statistics-driven organization that gathers data to propel their work in alleviating the gun violence epidemic in Chicago. Some of their projects include training programs for officers to reconnect with communities that suffer from violence and jump-starting after-school programs for youth in the south and west sides of Chicago.
What you can do:
- Pay attention, listen to peoples’ stories, amplify people’s voices
- Donate to organizations that connect with communities stricken with gun violence and are truly doing good work to help young people get out of the cycle of violence
The Context of My Piece
Although I have lived in Chicago my entire life, my lifestyle has always been secluded from the horrors of gun violence that I saw on the news or read online, and I wondered why. This question led me down a rabbit hole of other ones, and I wanted to know more about the historical context of gun violence in Chicago, and why Chicago is the way that it is today. I was able to speak with some members of the North Lawndale Peace Warriors and I could not comprehend their stories because they were so shocking. There was a clear disconnect from what the media was reporting and what was happening every day in these communities in the south and west sides of Chicago. Although the people in these violence-stricken neighborhoods were speaking out, few were listening. This was when I realized that although I will never fully comprehend what it is people from gun violence go through, the least I can do is to listen to their stories and experiences, care about and value their stories, and do as much as I can to bring about awareness and attention to this issue. Keeping those things in mind, I tried composing a piece that evoked emotions of empathy and hope for positive change.
Irvine , Martha. “For Peace Warriors Activists at North Lawndale School, Surviving Is No. 1 Goal.” Chicago.SunTimes, Chicago Sun-Times, 17 June 2018, chicago.suntimes.com/news/for-peace-warriors-activists-at-north-lawndale-school-surviving-s-no-1-goal/.
Collins, Julie, and Emily Swoveland. “The Impact of Gun Violence on Children, Families, & Communities.” CWLA, CWLA, www.cwla.org/the-impact-of-gun-violence-on-children-families-communities/.
Hathaway, Bill. “New PTSD Study Identifies Potential Path to Treatment.” YaleNews, Yale University, 29 May 2018, news.yale.edu/2017/07/17/new-ptsd-study-identifies-potential-path-treatment.
Metzel, Jonathan M. “OPINION-ESSAY: Repeal the Dickey Amendment to Address Polarization Surrounding Firearms in the United States.” Jonathan M Metzl, 2018, www.jonathanmetzl.com/repeal-the-dickey-amendment/.
NowThis News. “Peace Warriors’ Audrey Wright Makes Emotional Plea to End Gun Violence in Chicago.” NowThis, NowThis News, 21 Feb. 2019, nowthisnews.com/videos/news/peace-warriors-audrey-wright-makes-emotional-plea-to-end-gun-violence.
Parks-Ramage, Jonathan. “These People Dedicate Their Lives to Ending Gun Violence in Chicago.” Impact, VICE, 15 Aug. 2017, impact.vice.com/en_us/article/zmmnyx/these-people-dedicate-their-lives-to-ending-gun-violence-in-chicago. Accessed 21 Apr. 2019.
Quesada, Joseph. “Chicago, an American Landmark, Now Toppled in Violence.” E T H I C, 11 Jan. 2019, ethic-news.org/2019/01/09/chicago-an-american-landmark-now-toppled-in-violence/.
Schenkein, Emily. “Mass Gun Violence Is Affecting My Mental Health.” Www.mailman.columbia.edu, Columbia University, 21 Jan. 2019, www.mailman.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/mass-gun-violence-affecting-my-mental-health.
Sun-Times Wire. “Police Release 2018 Shooting Numbers.” Chicago.SunTimes, Chicago Sun-Times, 1 Jan. 2019, chicago.suntimes.com/news/police-2018-shooting-data/.
Young, Ryan. “Chicago’s First Warm Weekend of 2019 Ends with 24 Shootings and 5 Murders.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Apr. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/04/08/us/chicago-violence-weekend/index.html.
Zhang, Sarah. “Why Can’t the U.S. Treat Gun Violence as a Public-Health Problem?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 15 Feb. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/02/gun-violence-public-health/553430/.