Content warning: this story contains mentions of gun violence.
Gun violence continues to plague Evanston, a city with a monthly average of two to three homicides for the past two decades.
In September, a five-year-old Willard Elementary student was shot and killed in Roger’s Park. A mass shooting in nearby Highland Park this July also rattled the Evanston community.
While Evanston continues to implement community-based violence prevention programs, advocates are ramping up efforts to expand and implement initiatives aiming to stop gun violence citywide.
Gun Buyback Program
After her son was shot and killed ten years ago, local advocate Carolyn Murray spearheaded the gun buyback program, one of Evanston’s violence-reduction policies.
The buyback program offers Evanston residents cash in exchange for their functional and unloaded firearms. Murray said her program has been the most successful gun buyback program in city history, collecting more than 300 guns since its founding.
Even though few of the guns collected could have been used in homicides, Murray said the program is still crucial for violence prevention. However, after ten years, she said it is running out of funds.
“The gun buyback was never supposed to be the only solution to battling gun violence in the community,” she said. “The gun buyback was supposed to be the first of many opportunities that the community strategy would help. But it seems like the only thing we can do.”
“My City, Your City, Our City”
Evanston’s “My City, Your City, Our City” program, launched two years ago, promotes violence prevention through community building.
Jermey McCray, the program’s outreach supervisor, said the outreach team collaborates with city youth to determine what resources they need most. The program opened two community centers where students can go for a safe space, homework help or after-school activities.
“We need to have that input (from the youth) because it’s going to help shape a better future for us,” McCray said. “They’re smart — these individuals know what they want and it’s our job to listen to them to get us to a place where we’re all on the same page.”
To build community and support youth, the program hosted parties on the first Friday of each month and block parties over the summer. The events drew hundreds of residents and provided the city’s young people with a free and safe place to connect, grab food and spend time, McCray said.
He estimates that one in ten of the youth in the program have experienced trauma related to gun violence, whether witnessing it themselves or having a close friend or family member affected by it.
Moms Demand Action
The Evanston chapter of Moms Demand Action, a national volunteer organization for common-sense gun control, formed this summer after a mass shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School. The organization saw an influx of new volunteers after the Highland Park shooting.
Sara Hines, co-leader of the chapter, said any action in response to these tragic incidents needs to center the communities most impacted by gun violence.
“While devastating shootings like what happened in Highland Park received national attention, many communities in Illinois disproportionately bear the burden of our country’s gun violence crisis every single day,” Hines said.
Gun homicides and assaults disproportionately impact historically under-resourced communities and neighborhoods, including Evanston’s Black and Latine residents, she added.
Hines said the organization is encouraging voters through phone banking and canvassing to show up for politicians who view gun violence as a “holistic public health crisis.” MDA has also been reaching out to community organizations, with plans to host a joint town hall on gun violence Nov. 29 at the Evanston Public Library.
On a statewide level, the organization is pushing for an Illinois assault weapons ban, which Hines said would be a “step in the right direction.”
“Everybody needs to be involved,” Hines said. “We cannot be complacent.”
Lack of significant reform
After seeing politicians fail to deliver on tangible solutions to gun violence, Murray said she has lost faith in political candidates to bring about real change.
“We’ve seen historically that political candidates use gun violence and attention grabbers,” she said.
In her campaign for the 5th Ward aldermanic seat, Murray advocated for a strategic, citywide plan to address gun violence based on resident input. She has pushed for Evanston to put money behind community policing and provide resources for underserved parts of the city.
Murray said she thinks the city would have a different response if the victims of gun violence were predominately white — which is why she has little hope for fundamental change.
“Ten years (after) my son was killed, I’m still talking about the same thing,” Murray said. “Honestly moving forward, I don’t know how it gets better.”
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October 14, 2022 at 12:19AM