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."