News and analysis

Turning grief and shock to anger and action, hundreds of Chicago high school students, teachers, administrators, parents and elected officials rallied here April 1 against the crisis of gun violence plaguing the city. The rally was called in response to the shooting death of the 21st student this school year from the public school system.

“Stop the killing. Pass gun laws!” exhorted Father Michael Pfleger, pastor at St. Sabina Church, as he read the list of all the state senators and representatives who have refused to support state wide gun control laws.

Pfleger spoke in front of rows of empty chairs, each with the name of a student and an empty pair of sneakers for those who had been killed.

“We want futures, not funerals!” cried Pfleger, a leader in the campaign against gun violence who three weeks ago vowed to hold a rally in front of the Illinois State Building every time a student was killed. So far there have been three rallies.

“No child is safe while guns are accessible in the streets across the city. We need young people to stand up and say enough is enough. We need young people to take the lead. This is a national emergency. We need our voices to be heard over the special interests and the National Rifle Association,” said Pfleger.

Pfleger called for legislation including some introduced by State Representative Harry Osterman (Dem-14) that would require gun purchasers to have an ID card, limit purchasing to one gun per month, reinstate the assault weapons ban, require universal background check and make gun crime data public.

One of the rally speakers was Ronnie Mosley, a Simeon high school student. “We the youth are here today. We are fed up and we won’t take it any more. It makes no sense. We can’t go to school without protection.”

Mosley said the Simeon students and the Local School Council had called a public meeting to discuss solutions.

“What’s the reaction? Direct Action! What’s the solution? A youth revolution!” said Mosley.

Many students came to the rally from Simeon High School. Chavez Clark was killed in the school parking lot while attending Saturday classes this past weekend. Students also came from Jones College Prep, Ace Tech High and Crane High School, the site of another killing last week. The students, frustrated and fearful over the continuing violence, had many answers in response to a reporter’s question on how to end it.

“Take all the guns away,” said Simeon student Ebonee Robeson, age 14. “You need to have a legal age for buying guns,” said 14-year-old Tierra Morrin, also of Simeon.

Sarah Loed, 15 of Jones College Prep added, “We need to strengthen the laws of how to get guns.” “We’ve got to figure out where these guns are coming from. Then we can start to stop it, said Alicia Holmes, 18, of Ace Tech. “We need to do more to build communication and to talk to each other.’ ‘The anger and violence often comes from misunderstandings,’ added Sherise Harper, 18, also of Ace Tech.

Also speaking was Ron Holt, father of Blair Holt, a student slain last spring. “Last year on May 10 we were at 20 students killed. Blair was number 20. These shoes remind me of Blair and the shoes he wore. My heart goes out to all the parents who have lost children. Holt and other parents of slain youth have formed a group called Purpose Over Pain.’

Also addressing the rally were Mayor Richard Daley, Governor Rod Blagojevich, CPS CEO Arne Duncan and Rev. Marshall Hatch. After the rally, students marched around the State Building.

While partial measures are being lobbied for passage, the long-term solutions lie in both restoring funding to schools, after school and community programs and jobs creation, and taking on the gun manufacturers.

The rally took place the same day it was reported that half of all students in big city high school don’t graduate. Some observers connect the gun violence in part to the collapsing public school system and related support systems including counseling and mental health services.

“We need to have more programs for children. In my time we had more activities. There were more jobs. Funding for programs and education has fallen,” said Carol Grant, a CPS coordinator. “You used to have truant officers that would reach out to children who had left school. They cut that out about ten years ago. Now if you are out, you’re out.”

1000 persons die each day globally as a result of gun violence, including 80 in the United States. There are 640 million guns in the world and 8 million new ones manufactured each year. Guns kill, wound or disable about 1 million people a year.

A big battle remains to place some curbs on the gun manufacturers, a multi-billion dollar industry. Sturm, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Sigarms, Bryco, Remington, and Mossberg are among the largest US handgun manufacturers. They and their front group, the NRA, have adamantly resisted any form of gun control and wink and nod at the vast illegal and underground trade in weapons. Any other industry whose product caused so much death and destruction would have been regulated or shut down years ago.

In addition, the Bush administration and previous administrations, at the behest of the big gun manufacturers have consistently blocked all efforts to curb illegal trade in guns internationally.