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Hundreds of demonstrators marched through downtown Chicago on Wednesday, remembering the hundreds struck down by city’s violence and calling for swift action to reduce the stubborn, staggering toll.
Parents brought pictures of their murdered children, holding the images aloft as they walked down Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile,” as Michigan Avenue is called as it runs through the heart of America’s third largest metropolis.
Organizers estimate more than 500 people braved frigid temperatures to participate in the march. Some passersby joined the demonstration, which made its way on the Windy City’s wide sidewalks. Speeches denouncing violence will be followed by workshops and meetings later in the day.
“People stopped and waved at us, some people joined in, so the support in this area was fine," said Pam Bosley, an anti-violence activist and community organizer at St. Sabina Church on Chicago’s South Side. "It’s about 17 degrees, and below zero with wind chill, but our hearts are warm because of our kids.”
Organizers said they want to see a deep reduction in violent crime in Chicago in 2015. City officials point to a slight drop in the murder rate as evidence of progress — in 2013 there were 408 murders and this year there were 392.
But anti-violence activists decry a twelve percent jump in shooting incidents, from 1,807 last year to 2,026 this year, and point to the pervasive psychological trauma in communities as evidence that local leaders must do more to control guns and calm neighborhood streets.
“We have so many kids being killed in the city of Chicago," said Bosley. "Everybody’s been marching against police brutality, we want to march for all the youth who’ve been killed.”
“Just like it happened to us, it can happen to you,” Bosley told Al Jazeera. “The goal for 2015 is to end that cycle.”
Lamar Johnson, 24, a youth organizer and basketball coach at St. Sabina, said that many incidents of everyday violence go unreported. He contends a statistical drop in crime doesn't tell the whole story.
Shootings still leave permanent scars on victims, both physical and psychological, he added. More people may be surviving gunshot wounds, but face crippling, permanent injuries like paralysis. Taking care of the mental scars is also critical, he said.
“My perspective is to promote love and peace in our homes,” said Lamar Johnson. “You start and finish your day at home.”
The march on Wednesday comes after the release of a report this fall by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s Commision for a Safer Chicago on how to keep kids from becoming victims or perpetrators of violence.
Susan Johnson, director of the survivors program at the non-profit Chicago Citizens for Change, participated in putting together the plan and she hailed the process as more than window dressing.
Composed by dozens of different community groups, the report recommended five goals for the city: increasing youth employment; responding to violent crime with emergency mental health counseling; turning schools into centers for conflict mediation; keeping kids out of the juvenile justice system; and creating places where youth feel safe.
“We have a whole swath of this city where it is not possible to calm yourself,” Susan Johnson said. “You would not be calm, I would not be calm. How to do you expect a 6-year-old to learn in that kind of environment?”
Johnson, a rights advocate, said that the cycle of violence will continue until communities address the psychological trauma guns cause. She blamed lax gun laws in counties and states bordering Illinois as contributing to the influx of weapons onto Chicago’s streets.
In some neighborhoods, an illegal gun can cost as little as $25 dollars.