‘Racial oppression is the root cause of gun violence’: A deeper dive into a city’s multi-million dollar plan for peace

Local News

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA)– Following a 4-hour Champaign City Council meeting and emotional pleas from dozens, the real work is set to begin.

Council advanced the city’s “Community Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint” in that meeting Tuesday night. It’s the most expensive, most comprehensive gun violence plan the council has ever come together on.

Countless stories of hurt at the hands of gun violence filled the room, a sign of the sheer number of people who have personal experience with it.

“Saying, hey look, this is what I’m living. This is my reality,” shared Marlon Mitchell, the founder of non-profit FirstFollowers.

Mitchell was not at all surprised by the far-reaching impact of continued violence in the city.

One public speaker shared an audio recording of gunshots that went on for more than a minute. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he says 64 rounds rang out.

“We agree that the root problem is manifested in income inequality, poverty, underfunded public housing, under-resourced public services, achievement gaps in schools, lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness, and easy access to firearms by high-risk people,” another speaker laid out.

In the last five years, the number of shootings involving a victim has more than doubled from 26 in 2016 to 67 in 2021 to date. Homicides have tripled from three, five years ago, to a record-breaking 16 this year.

The city spelled out where it’s happening in a series of maps in the blueprint, and in no surprise to many of the speakers, it’s adversely harming the city’s Black population at an alarming rate.

“Yes, racial oppression is the root cause of gun violence,” a speaker concluded.

“Things have gotten to a point where they’ve escalated really quickly and it’s like a wildfire. I mean if you don’t put it out and you don’t section it off, it’ll spread and it’ll keep spreading,” Mitchell shared.

FirstFollowers is one of the proposed partners in the blueprint. The city plans to invest more than $600,000 in the non-profit to ramp up aid for the formerly incarcerated, including working with the Illinois Dept. of Corrections so people can prepare to re-enter society up to two years before release.

Deputy Mayor, At Large Will Kyles said he’s thankful the blueprint includes tracking success through data, and he was pleased with the community response.

“As one speaker said, it’s the fruition of decades worth of work,” he added. “…That’s what I think that people wanted was the ability to see hope, and to see that it wasn’t just a great conversation.”

Crime Stoppers would be another partner. The non-profit takes anonymous tips to help solve crime. It plans to expand its Illegal Gun Bounty Reward program. Since Crime Stoppers started offering rewards of up to $1,000 for tips that lead to a gun-related arrest, 42 arrests have been made and 55 firearms recovered.

The goal is to raise that reward to $2,500, and $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest in a murder case.

Final approval for the blueprint is expected in January.

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