Illinois crime victims’ families plead for more support, alternatives to traditional law-and-order methods

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CHICAGO – Maria Pike found her calling after her son Ricky was shot and killed in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in August 2012.

She became an advocate for a better support system for grieving families, which is why she and hundreds of other relatives of victims of violence came to the Illinois capital on Wednesday to push legislators to invest in community-based efforts to combat street violence that would serve as alternatives to traditional law-and-order methods.

“I want them to see us,” said Maria Pike in a ballroom at a downtown Springfield hotel, where activists were joined by several state legislators. “Those survivors are in pain. They want answers and solved cases, right? But they also have other needs.”

Those needs include better housing and employment options, as well as mental health support for families coping with the loss of loved ones.



Bertha Purnell holds a photo of her son, Maurice Purnell, 28, who was killed June 24, 2017, as she speaks on March 30, 2022, to reporters. Purnell was part of a group of Chicago crime victims and family members of murder victims that gathered to depart by bus for Springfield to join hundreds of fellow survivors in demanding support and crime victims.



Jose M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune


Tuesday’s event was hosted by the group Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. Family members held up photos of relatives lost to violence and signs that included one saying, “Freedom from violence is a human right.”

“We are here with survivors of domestic violence, of gun violence, sexual assault, survivors from those communities that are most harmed by violence,” Aswad Thomas, managing director for the group, told the crowded ballroom. “Those same communities and these people in this room today are least supported by the justice system. But that must change.”

Thomas’ group is calling for the state to put more money into trauma recovery centers, which help surviving victims and families of those who died from violence with an array of services ranging from mental health treatment to seeking victim compensation funds.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget proposal includes roughly $240 million for violence prevention organizations that specialize in mediating street conflicts and connecting those most at risk of being a party to violence with various social services.

The Illinois General Assembly is expected to decide on the governor’s full budget proposal by the end of next week, the scheduled end of the spring legislative session.

Republicans have used recent outbreaks of violent crime to attack Pritzker and Democrats, contending without concrete evidence that landmark criminal justice reform legislation passed last year has fueled the spike. But many of the Democratic initiatives, such as the elimination of cash bail, have yet to take effect.

Proponents of change say traditional law enforcement strategies haven’t by themselves proved successful in combating crime.

“When you think about safety, safety is not being tough on crime. Safety is about being smart,” Thomas said. “That means more mental health treatment … More investments in things that help stop the cycle of violence, (including) trauma recovery centers, funding for organizations, also (ensuring) that we prioritize rehabilitation for those individuals coming out of the justice system.”

Chicago ended 2021 with more than 800 slayings, and a few Illinois cities saw a record number of homicides last year. In Champaign, a city of about 88,000 people, 17 homicides were recorded, the most ever for that city, according to news reports. Peoria ended 2021 with 34 people slain, also a record for the central Illinois city of about 113,000 people.

House Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat whose stepson was shot and killed in 2014, noted that she and her legislative colleagues have had success in securing funding for trauma recovery centers, prompting the crowd to erupt in an applause. But she acknowledged more are needed.

“We are going to continue to fight for trauma services, for healing that survivors have to have,” said Gordon-Booth. “You can’t incarcerate your way out of this. You can’t prosecute your way out of this. We have to heal our community.”

The family of 19-year-old Chrys Carvajal, a National Guards member who was shot and killed on Chicago’s Northwest Side last summer while visiting his family, was among those at the event.

“It’s really hard to have to grieve at the same time and have to continue to be present and speak up, be his voice, because he’s no longer here,” said his sister, Jennifer Ramirez. “But we’re here, and we will continue to be here and make it known that we’re not going to give up.”

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March 31, 2022 at 08:53AM

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