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Anti-Violence Speech on July 22, 2017

Thank you all for coming today.

Today, I’d like to continue a dialogue between all of us about the future of our state.

Throughout the series of speeches I plan to deliver along the campaign trail, I intend to cover a range of topics, each with a deep dive.

It is my hope that, as a result of this and the feedback I receive; that we can together, develop plans and policies that will guide our state forward. Over the coming months, we will be laying out the details of each of these plans because never again should we elect a governor who runs on platitudes and won’t tell us what he plans to do until after the election.

This afternoon’s speech is going to be focused on violence.

There are plenty of people in this room who will know more about this subject than I do.

There are lots of people in our city and state who are even greater experts on the subject.

I think the role of state government is to support community-based solutions and not impose them.

Having said that, the government should provide a framework for how it intends to approach every issue so as to align the efforts of everyone it can. Bringing clarity to purpose is the burden of leadership. And so today, I hope to outline my approach.

As we think about the broad problem of violence in our community, I would divide it into certain sub-problem areas and I would organize them initially into 8 areas.

First, I think we need to look at basic economic development issues like education, jobs and opportunity as the core drivers of violence.

Second, we need to look at reducing the flow of handguns from unlicensed dealers and other illegal channels.

Third, we need to deal with a way to divert at-risk youth and others from violence when we know that they are at–risk.

Fourth, we need to recognize that once violence starts, there are techniques to stop it from spreading and we should embrace those techniques everywhere and every time.

Fifth, we also need to recognize that violence will occur, and we need to care for victims.

We need to treat the victims, and not just physically. We need to do more than bind their wounds. We must heal their spirits.

Sixth, we need the notion of the victim to be expanded from the singular notion, that the victim is just the individual, who was wounded, to recognize that an entire family can be traumatized and an entire community as well – and all are deserving of care.

Seventh, we need police officers that better reflect the communities they are here to serve and protect.

They deserve better training and a return to a full force.

And we cannot ask police officers to do more and work for less.

Eighth, we need criminal justice reform because how we treat the perpetrator today will have a great impact on what happens to the perpetrator, and to the rest of us tomorrow.

Those are the areas that I hope to tackle in the discussion today.

Until we can contribute to the solutions, first we need to recognize the scale of the problem.

I moved to Chicago in the 1980s. The city was incredible then, with great optimism and the feeling that we were leading the world. Harold Washington was mayor. We were on our way to becoming a majority minority city. We had learned together how to govern in a multicultural democracy.

We proudly showed the world that we could enjoy each other’s company, learn from each other’s stories, dance to each other’s music, watch each other’s theater, and embrace our differences as our strengths.

But then the crack epidemic hit in the 1990s.

The government at all levels was slow to respond, and violence spiked. What occurred in Chicago was occurring around the United States. Different cities reacted in different ways.

With support from the federal government, places like New York and Chicago invested in community policing.

Community policing turned neighbors into friends and enemies into allies as they brought peace to their communities. Crime declined and gun violence declined. Unfortunately, budget pressures at the city level and an unwillingness to raise taxes led to a disinvestment in public education,

A significant reduction in the size and training of our police force, threats to officers’ benefits greatly impacting morale, and a reduction in support for diversion programs.

Then, the Republican Party in Illinois was hijacked by a libertarian mad man who believes that government has no role in investing in people, nor the economy, and so state support for anti-violence programs evaporated.

And in 2015, as a result, that positive trend of lower gun violence turned against us. Violence increased last year so much so that we had a record-breaking year. With almost 400 homicides already this year, we are on pace to match the terrible record of last year.

The murder rate doesn’t capture the full story of those who have been wounded, nor does the epidemic of gun violence capture the broader range of violence occurring in our communities.
It is however a barometer, maybe despair index of the magnitude of the problems we face.

But we have to realize is that on a per capita basis, Chicago is not the most challenged city in the state. There are other communities that have more gun crimes per person than we do here in Chicago, from East St. Louis all the way to Maywood, from Centralia all the way Harvey.

We need to address the violence issues as a state.

We need to help everyone no matter where they live.

We need to see ourselves as part of a family.

A big American family.

Martin Luther King said, “no one is free unless everyone is free.”

I am proof of that.

Violence which can touch our society anywhere will eventually touch our society everywhere, just as it did to my family, just as it has done to too many of the people in this room, just as it has done to tens of thousands of families across Illinois.

Opportunity is the enemy of violence, and economic oppression is its partner in crime.

So, I think we need to address these issues as we work to contain the resulting violence itself. As we address the future of our communities and the issues of violence, let’s first start with community-wide issues, like our education, our economy, and our opportunities.

As some of you know, I had the honor of being the chairman of the board of the University of Illinois. There is, on the campus in Champaign Urbana, an area of land called the Study Plots. They have been in continuous use almost since Abraham Lincoln created the land grant system of universities and colleges.

Those plots are incredibly important, not just to the university or Illinois, but to the entire world.

You see, it was on those study plots that scientists first realized that the quality of the soil matters to the production of the crops. If the quality of the soil is not supportive, the crops will not thrive.

More importantly, we realized that we could add helpful nutrients to the once barren soil and as a result, we can grow powerful crops and feed the world. The most important lesson was that when the soil wasn’t perfect, we could improve it.

We could add nutrients and if we did so, the crops would not only survive, they would thrive.

Just as it is obvious that soil matters to crops, so should it be obvious that the quality of our communities determines the opportunities available to our youth. If the community does not nurture our young people, then the young people will never be able to thrive.

We need to nurture our communities, we need great preschools and great elementary and high schools that are fully funded, and that allow kids to be part of the 21st century. We know that in Chicago today, there are dozens of high schools where the average ACT score is a 14 or 15.

The graduates are not college or workplace ready.

We are not preparing these kids to do great things with their lives. They will never be a part of the 21st century economy.

We are under educating our kids so that they cannot get jobs in the offices in the downtown towers.

They cannot be police officers or firefighters.

They will never be teachers. We are dooming them to a life of economic servitude.

Our disinvestment in schools is creating an educational underclass, and then we are allowing economic oppression to force these young people into a life of crime, or force them out of our city. We are underfunding the schools because we pay for them with property taxes.

Everyone in the state knows we should move to a system of paying for him or her at the state level with a basket of taxes, including a progressive graduated income tax.

We don’t abandon the property tax system because a handful of elected leaders make money as property tax appeals lawyers.

This is the root of fundamental unfairness, not just in Chicago but all across our state.

Not only does it cause our kids to be undereducated, it contributes to violence in our city.
People are dying and being killed because we are not providing them alternative economic opportunities, simply by denying them that education.

We will not stem the violence unless we transform neighborhoods from places where people are merely trying to survive, to communities where they can thrive.

We need to make sure that when we talk about investing in communities that we are not just talking about entry-level jobs.

We need to invest bottom to top and top to bottom. We need to look at opportunities from summer jobs, to things like pinstripe patronage – everything from streets and sanitation to bond counsel, from lifeguards to the people who invest the state’s money.

We need to commit to making the supply chain for the state like the state of Illinois itself.

The second major front is to reduce the number of handguns.

We need to address the issue of how those guns get to our streets and how we can contain them.

I think we need to recognize that the issues of violence that plague our community, and seem to make it worse than any other community, have been studied.

And it is clear that what makes us different from other cities is the access to handguns, and that our unusually easy access to handguns on a purely statistical basis explains why we have greater violence in Chicago than elsewhere.

We will create a state gun-tracing program so we can trace the ownership of all guns that were used in a crime.

The federal government has been sidelined in this effort because the gun lobby bought off Congress, which passed a law specifically preventing the Center for disease control from collecting this data.

We will cooperate with other states that are creating tracing programs so that our data collection and reporting techniques are compatible.

This way, we can help to create a national database in the absence of any help or leadership from the federal government.

We will license gun dealers in the state of Illinois. You need a license to sell a service that cuts hair, but not one that sells guns that can cut down lives. A gun can do a lot more damage than a bad manicure, yet you can sell one without being licensed.

We will close the gun show loophole where people can buy guns at traveling trade shows without having to go through the background checks that gun dealers in the state are required to perform on buyers in their stores.

This is an attack, not only on our safety, but also on the economy of our state. It puts our retailers at a disadvantage.

We will pass an order of protection act as other states have done to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and those involved in domestic disputes.

We will ban anyone on the terrorist watch list from receiving a FOID card in Illinois and we will call on President Trump to share the terrorist watch list with the state police immediately, or to explain why he refuses to do so.

And we will confront the gun train issue.

We will put the railroads on notice if their rail lines or their rail yards are used again in a manner that threatens public safety, where low levels of security are provided to trains loaded with guns, we will seize those rail lines to protect the people of our state.

We need to target crime even before it begins.

We need to identify at-risk youth and divert them from a life of crime.

We need to help them before they are swept into the vortex of violence as it blows through our communities.

We know how to do this, we have done it in Illinois before, and we have seen it done in other states.

In Illinois, there are great examples of effective programs, like the Becoming A Man program or Redeploy Illinois, both demonstrate good track records, and redirect young people to productive behaviors.

We will create a dedicated grant program to support violence prevention services that are indigenous to the communities where support is needed the most.

We need to stop violence once it begins.

The Ceasefire program, which began in Chicago, has had a great impact in lots of cities.

While it started here, it was improved in other places, and over time, we now have a great model.

We can take the best of the elements from programs around the country and expand what we are doing here just as we work to make our programs better. Stopping the spread of violence once it starts is a proven technique. There are heroes in our communities, who are ex-offenders, who are working to improve the lives of young people.

Many of them are proof that the greatest attribute of America is our ability to give people a second chance, to prove that we are the land of redemption.

We need to immediately restore the funding to Illinois programs with a good track record in reducing violence. No longer should the political calculus of this cold-hearted Governor stand in the way of protecting our kids.

We must make sure that there are resources for social and emotional learning in every school.

Just as we try to prevent violence, so too must we acknowledge that it will still occur.

We need to be prepared to support victims.

Not just in hospitals and with sutures.

Just as we will need to provide physical therapy for the wounded, so too must we provide mental health support. The challenge of trauma is never just physical.

Just as we think it is important to make health care clinics accessible to all our communities, so too must we have parity for mental health issues. A broken arm is no more a legitimate form of injury than is a wounded spirit.

We must also treat the trauma within our broader communities.

We need to provide the treatment necessary to support children, families, and entire communities who have been the victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

We cannot continue to fail to take care of the wounded, even as we fail to stop the wounding.

For communities disproportionately affected by violence, that means committing to counseling, emotional and mental health access for children attending schools in communities afflicted by violence.

We need to scan the country, and see what other great programs there are. Programs like CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning and many more that we can learn from to make good programs available in every community that needs them.

We must make sure that there are resources for social and emotional learning in every school.

Our property tax burden keeps our school system from putting in place the staff and programing for the kind of social and emotional learning proven to reach the children who are growing up in communities surrounded by daily violence.

Children whose minds are occupied by threats that keep them from focusing on learning math and English and science.

But we have witnessed incredible acts of community healing and great outcomes.

All we have to do is look to South Africa and the leadership of Nelson Mandela.
We can look to Rwanda and see a thriving economy where there was once constant bloodshed.

We can see forgiveness where there was once a hate. We can see victory where there was once violence.

Illinois should be the place that people look to, a place where they look for how to heal their own communities. We should support the people in the communities where they are already doing the healing, and try to build out that good work.

Some say it will never change.

But I see it differently.

I see an Illinois that goes from being the poster child of gun violence to a model of the modern state.

An Illinois where researchers and community leaders come from around the world to ask the question: How did they do it? And how did they do it so well? In better times, when our violent crime rate was going down instead of going up, we were investing heavily in community policing.

We were all in it together. It was as if integrating cops into communities made people see them less as a hostile force, and more as a force for good.

We have a huge challenge.

We cannot pay for the police force we want.

Our schools are so under educating the kids that we can’t recruit police officers from the very communities where we need community policing the most.

When budgets got tight we cut back on the number of police officers and now we don’t have a full-strength force like we did years ago. Estimates vary, but it appears as though there are 1000 to 2000 fewer police officers in Chicago than there were at the time when we had fewer murders.

Our officers complain that the training that allows them to better integrate into new and different communities than the ones they grew up in has been cut. That training is no longer available, so we breed alienation between the police and the community.

We tried to cut back on community policing because of the financial pressures, and it was a disaster.

We threatened to reduce the value of the total compensation package for the police officers because of the financial constraints placed on us by reliance on property taxes, and as a result, morale plummeted and pride evaporated.

When the Governor’s actions in Springfield threatened pensions, many police officers retired, robbing us of the examples of lives of service and role models for younger officers trying to relate to the community.

The U.S. Department of Justice report on CPD is a disturbing read.

I think it is clear that we should implement the recommendations for reforms from the police accountability task force.

Most of all, we need to recruit officers that look like the communities they are here to serve and protect. If we want real community policing, we need real community police officers. We need to understand that the criminal justice system that we have built is a contributor to the violence in our state.

We have lost sight of our purpose. We have lost sight of our point of view.

If you’re poor in this country and show up at a bond hearing without a lawyer, the judge who sets your bond will, in effect, render your sentence.

You will go directly to jail, and your family and friends won’t have the resources to bail you out.

We need to ask and answer basic questions.

Do we think people are inherently good?

Or do we think they are inherently bad?

Do we want to punish them or do we want to rehabilitate them?

I believe, even after what I have been through, that people are inherently good.

Just as I believe in punishing, so too do I believe in the merits of rehabilitation. I think it makes no sense to release someone from prison, someone whose life we have controlled 24-hours a-day, seven-days-a-week, and not have given them the tools and skills needed to succeed in our communities.

If we are going to release people, we should do so in a way that they become contributors to society.

They should have a driver’s license.

They should have a state ID.

They should have the ability to read.

They should be able to participate in the 21st-century American economy.

Our prisons should not simply be about punishment.

They should be about redemption and restorative justice as well.

It is really great to live in a state where there are so many not-for-profits and charitable organizations willing to fund efforts around re-entry. We need to recognize though, that their funding is never going to be enough. Preventing and correcting violent behavior is the proper role of government.

We should see the Department of Corrections not so much as correcting bad behavior, but as correcting our broken social safety net.

By providing people the education they never received, the employable skills they never had, and the social skills they were never taught.

In our Department of Corrections, we will appoint a dedicated advisor to coordinate our philanthropic, nonprofit, and public services into comprehensive rehabilitation program for our prison population.

Let’s not fall victim to the fatal attraction of sound bites, where we tell the world we are tough on crime, instead of telling the world we are smart about it.

Let’s be a model of revitalization not the poster child for violence.

Darwin never said that it was the tough or the strong who survive; he said it was the most adaptable. We need to adapt our criminal justice system from one that isn’t working to one that allows our entire society to thrive.

There is, of course, the economic argument.

It is incredibly expensive to house prisoners. It costs more than $100 a day to house a single person in a Cook County Jail. If all we’re doing is releasing them, only to have them simply return in days, weeks, months, or even years later, then we have failed morally and failed economically.

We should update our thinking from 100 years ago. Just as Frederick Douglas said, it’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

So too must we believe that it is better to send forth from our prisons well-trained and highly prepared ex-offenders. Rather than to simply release a future repeat offender.

It’s better to give a non-violent offender a path to the present than to turn him into a career criminal.

I hope you get from all of this, not simply a laundry list of specific programs, or the notion that somehow I think I have all the answers.

What I hope to do today more than anything else was to convey a spirit of solidarity, to reaffirm our commitment that no matter whether you’re wealthy or not, if you live in our society, you should always have options.

Most importantly, I want you to understand how I think and what I feel and who I care about.

I want you to know the nature of my strong commitment to the belief that Government can play a role in improving people’s’ lives. All of this is rooted in my own experiences.

Violence has many roots. It is a weed, and it must be cut down from many different angles.

I’ve listed a few facts and various ideas that will set our state on the right path but now I want to share with you a story of the effect of gun violence from just one person’s life.

Just after this boy was born, a family member of his was killed, and the shooting was caught on tape.

He said he remembered that when his family was relaxing and watching TV at home at night, sometimes they would flip through the channels and how jarring it would be for them to see that unwanted footage over and over again.

A few years later, when he was still very young, his own father was killed, and there were photographs of that moment, which also appeared regularly on the news and in the community papers.

He lived in a community, which had great access to handguns and other weapons.

His family members were activists, and eventually they needed the protection of police presence, and a police cruiser had to be parked in front of their house because of the constant threats.

He also lived in a community where there was easy access to illegal drugs.

He lost an older brother to a drug overdose.

Other brothers and cousins were arrested for possession of pot.

Things got worse as drugs became more prevalent and access became easier, and eventually several family members became addicted to heroin.

Court cases became a regular part of their lives.

They liked the government in many ways, but five separate times, members of his family were caught up in overzealous prosecutions, which would end up without conviction, or in cases in which conviction did occur, they were overturned.

Strangely, the timing of these events in his life seemed to correlate with the end of semesters, a time during which exams in school were always scheduled to occur.

His grades suffered; he repeated an entire grade school academic year, and later, in junior high, he failed basic courses in math.

The teachers were nonunion at his school.

They had none of the required training or advanced degrees of professionals, and no commitments to continuing education.

The principal of his school was eventually convicted and sentenced to 70 years for molesting the other kids in the school.

The teachers had no understanding of the impossibility of getting a young mind to remain focused on conjugating verbs or solving equations when that mind is still trying to process murder and loss and a fatherless youth and an unresponsive school.

The teachers did not seem to understand that he couldn’t concentrate on his schoolwork when he was still trying to wrestle with all of the complexities of life his community.

It was probably unclear to his teachers whether he was bright enough to be in the school or motivated enough to do the work.

As he progressed through school, he realized that other kids were being assigned to higher-level classes, tracked to go on to college, and he was put in the lower-level classes with kids of an uncertain future.

This did not do much for his own self-confidence, and by the middle of high school, he was convinced he would never go to college.

Eventually, his school recommended that he be sent to an eye doctor who diagnosed poor eyesight. The doctor had a unique and truly bizarre theory that bad eyesight could be cured with exercise alone.

He was too young to realize that the doctor was a quack, and his single mother, raising a bunch of kids by herself, couldn’t be the advocate he needed at the time.

Years of a productive life were lost for want of a simple pair of prescription eyeglasses.

Eventually, though, people entered his life who, like City Year corps members, helped keep him in school.

They accompanied him to meetings with principals and argued against the administration that wanted to throw him out of high school.

They arranged extra help for him and eventually made it possible for him to transition from adolescence to adulthood.

They talked him into applying to a single college, which he did, and when he went there, he seemed to thrive.

His self-confidence developed, and after graduating college, he eventually took the GMAT.

He scored higher than more than 90% of the people who took the test in the United States, and he was accepted into what was ranked as the best business school in the country at the time.

Because of the help he had received from people like City Year corps members, he became a productive member of society.

He overcame his math challenges and eventually handled accounting and finance without blinking an eye.

As a result of these interventions, he grew up and eventually controlled billions of dollars in assets and led organizations with thousands of employees and billions of dollars in annual expenditures.

He was embraced by his community and ended up playing a leadership role in a lot of community organizations.

Eventually, he became the head of a major college.

The school had a pioneering program called CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

It has become the country’s most important think-tank for the study of challenges that young people face in focusing on education when they have traumatic life experiences or witness complex events.

He became a champion of the program.

He never forgot about the people who helped him out, and so he spent much of his free time volunteering, which is how he came to Top Box Foods.

He will tell you that his entire transformation was made possible because kind souls stepped into the void that was left in his life and helped him during his time of need.

He never misses a chance to thank people who help others in their time of need.

It turns out he is here today.

It turns out that he is me.

It is the Kennedy family that I have described.

It is the deaths of my uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and my own father, Robert F. Kennedy that I have referenced.

I understand how difficult it is to go to class, to go to school, to recover from that, to try to excel the notion that 45 years ago when I was going through kindergarten and first grade, the notions around social and emotional learning, the impact of trauma was so primitive at the time.

We really haven’t made strides, but what we really need to understand is when seven or eight hundred people are killed in Chicago, three or four thousand people shot, when that is occurring, the ripple effect in the community is devastating.

There will be thousands of children who will fail to thrive in those early years. The cost of providing the extra help to them far exceeds the cost that creating a safe city where those things don’t happen in the first place.

This is why we must act.

Tomorrow, we will be judged by the next generation on what we did today.

Did we lean in or did we turn away because it was too painful, too hard, too much of someone else’s burden? Some other neighborhood’s scourge?

Did we retreat behind fences and gate and rationalizations?

Did we choose to remember the names, bear witness to the loss or forget the lives that were tragically taken?

Or did we spread the bounty of our city to every neighborhood?

Did we use our lives to prevent these deaths?

Did we sit back in the comfort of our homes or stand in the streets and demand more from government and ourselves?

No one action alone will prevent the next deadly night. No law or reform by itself will end the pain of the families of the lost. But together, slowly, against all odds, we can end this insanity.

We can. We must. We will. There will be no choice, only a charge for all of us, as one – to rise up, and stop the slaughter.