CHAMPAIGN – The rise in gun violence in Champaign-Urbana and elsewhere can be traced back to the trauma young people of color are experiencing. And addressing it effectively requires a united effort from the entire community.
Those were takeaways from the discussion Monday night at the Pour Brothers Craft Taproom in downtown Champaign. The event, named News Brews and Beatz, is the successor to the News and Brews events that Illinois Public Media held before the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary halt to public gatherings.
WILL News Director Reginald Hardwick and Champaign County Community Coalition facilitator Tracy Parsons hosted the discussion, which focused on ways to respond to rising levels of gun violence. Parsons noted the rise in shooting incidents in Champaign of all kinds (ranging from reports of shots fired to fatal shootings), from 100 incidents in 2019, to around 250 this year to date. Meanwhile, the number of homicides in Champaign has risen from two in 2019 to 15 so far this year. Urbana reported similar increases in shooting incidents and homicides. Other downstate cities such as Peoria have also seen disturbingly high levels of gun violence.
Nathan Stephens told the gathering that the rise in gun violence is occurring among young people who feel threatened, without enough support from family, school or the communities they live in. Stephens is a professor at Illinois State University’s School of Social Work, and the former director of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois. He says that from talking to shooters and witnesses to shootings, he’s hearing a message of a lack of trust that the community they live in can provide a safe environment.
“Our young people are not convinced that we can protect them,” said Stephens. “So they are trying to protect themselves. And sometimes, it is no more than protecting their reputation.”
Stephens says social media plays a role when reputations are at stake, because when everything can be caught on video and posted online, like a fight, for example, young people feel that they are fated to continually relive the shame from the incident. He says reducing gun violence depends on addressing these problems, which will take a collective effort from the entire community.
Also speaking at News Brews and Beatz was Karen Crawford Simms, program director at the Trauma and Resilience Initiative. The Champaign-based non-profit organization works with families that have been traumatized by gun violence. Simms says combating gun violence and its impact takes a deliberate investment of time, talent and energy, and some parts of the community need that investment more than others.
“Now, there’s a subset for folks that we know, because we live with structural violence, that need more,” said Simms,. “So where neighborhoods and communities have been impacted by structural inequalities and inequities, decide to be OK with them getting more.”
At the same time, Simms say other parts of the community can’t be ignored, because the resulting disunity can undermine progress.
Monday’s News Brews and Beatz event was first in a series of discussions planned by Illinois Public Media to look at the rise in community gun violence. The event also featured a reading by spoken word artist Missy Richland, and music from Dj-l.c.Dré (the “beatz” promised in the event’s title).
The program was presented to an online audience on Facebook Live, where a recording is available. It will be posted at Illinois Public Media’s YouTube page. Co-host Reginald Hardwick announced the next News Brews and Beatz event is scheduled for December 13th.