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Illinois budget cuts blamed for spike in Chicago murder rate

Community activists charge Gov. Bruce Rauner's cuts have led to increased violence as youth groups struggle for funds

Chicago has already passed the 1,000 mark for shooting victims this year, the Chicago Tribune reported, and the number of homicides so far this year is 18 percent higher than in the same period last year — a level of violence that rivals 2012, when gun violence in the city attracted international attention.

Meanwhile, the state’s new governor, Bruce Rauner, a Republican, announced in April that there would be deep cuts to social programs in Illinois this year — a total of $26 million dollars meant to help overcome a $1.6 billion budget deficit.

Activists expect the cuts to have a cumulative effect, but they say there has already been an increase in the intensity of violence and shootings as well as killings. Their fear is not unfounded — scientific research conducted in Chicago shows how summer jobs can decrease the risk of youth becoming entangled in crime or violence

Murders per month for April and May remain relatively unchanged from last year, and the overall figure is bolstered by January and March being more deadly than in 2014, according to Tribune statistics. But gunshot wounds, afflicting 1,050 people so far this year, already outpace the bloody summer of 2012, and represent real attempts to take human lives. 

The services that were cut include a drug addiction prevention program that lost $1.6 million. Homeless assistance lost $300,000. One after-school program, Teen REACH, lost $3.1 million. Summer job programs took a hit.

Community activists in Chicago say the cuts may be contributing to the violence. Rauner "is trying to balance his budget on the backs of the mentally ill, the poor and the youth,” said Marsha Eaglin, founder of Impact Family Center, a non-profit founded in 2005 that provides job training for young people in communications, marketing and digital journalism.

Rauner’s office did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this story.

As school closes for the summer, thousands of Chicago students face the end of a long-running summer jobs program operated by the state's Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).According to the Chicago Sun-Times, $8 million dollars of cuts to the Department of Human Services undid the program. 

“Without these opportunities students have nothing else to do,” Eaglin said. “So either they’ll be the ones out there committing acts of violence or they’re going to become victims of violence."

Other community activists agree. "There'll be more youth violence. Youth violence is already bad but no jobs just makes a bad situation worse," said Wendy Jones, founder and executive director of Youth Peace Center of Roseland. Her organization, which provides mentoring and job training, is facing cuts that Jones declined to specify. 

"There's a lot of young people who depend on these jobs for the summer,” said Jones. “It's very difficult to get work in the first place, but they kind of know that there are agencies that are going to have these summer jobs. When they don't come, it becomes a more desperate situation."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner declares victory during his election night on November 4, 2014. He started his term in office with a sweeping set of cuts to social services.
John Gress / Getty Images

Word of cuts to Eaglin's budget for this summer came on March 31 via the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, an umbrella agency that covers a wide range of economic and social development projects the state undertakes.

The notice suspended a grant Eaglin had been awarded, and prevented Eaglin from using any more of the $29,000 allotted in a grant issued through the Eliminate the Digital Divide program in the 2014-2015 budget, which predated Rauner, who was sworn in Jan. 12. The program sought to teach disadvantaged people how to use computers and the Internet

On April 4, Rauner made public the grant suspensions that hit groups like Eaglin's. 

For Eaglin, funding — and funding cuts or grant suspensions — come with kids attached. She remembers Shamari Salter as an avid participant in the 2012 job- training program, struggling at first but succeeding with dedication that violent summer.

“I’m a tough love kind of person, so I had to get him to understand what he should do,” Eaglin said. “He would look at me and say ‘I get it. I will do better.’ And I saw that summer he wanted to make something of himself. He was one of the ones out there I raised that bar for. He rose to the occasion.”

Salter was registered to attend classes at Parkland College in Champaign this fall, Eaglin said.  

Salter, 19, was fatally shot on May 13 while sitting in a car in Roseland, on Chicago's far south side. His aunt told the Chicago Sun-Times that his older brother Shaquille Salter, 23, died in a shooting on July 4, 2014.

Eric Wilkins, a former gang member turned mentor for young people paralyzed by gun violence, through his group Broken Winggz, said the funding cuts show young people that people don’t care about them. “The programs getting cut, it discourages the kids,” Wilkins said. “It makes them feels like nobody cares about them. If nobody cares about them, they don’t care about anybody.”  

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