‘A tale of two cities.’ Lincoln Park church honors gun violence victims in 6th annual Vigil Against Violence


Josephine Stratman

Rev. Beth Brown speaks to the congretation at Lincoln Park Presberterian Church’s ‘Vigil Against Violence.’

As homicide rates in Chicago rise to levels not seen since the mid-1990s, Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church hopes to bridge divides between the North and South Sides.

On Saturday, people gathered at the church’s sixth annual “Vigil Against Violence.” There, they mourned the lives of 75 young Chicagoans lost this year to gun violence and considered solutions for the systemic issues organizers said underlie the violence.

The theme of the event was “creating safe communities for all” — regardless of zip code — focussed on financial divestment from policing.

During the vigil, speakers stressed a need for white North Siders to show solidarity with residents on the South and West sides.

Pastor Beth Brown sponsored the event. She said the event was intended to bring awareness and support to the problem of gun violence.

“If we don’t show our support, the city will be lost,” Brown said. “So many people on the North Side have no idea of what is going on in the city.”

Seventy-five photos of each of the young victims lined the sidewalk outside the church, inviting passersby to look at their faces and “pray their names.”

Josephine Stratman

The display has been met with some resistance from the community. Longtime parishioner Steven Hunter said that while some people have applauded the display, the church has also received plenty of complaints.

“We’ve actually faced a good amount of backlash,” he said. “People say, ‘Do our kids have to see that?’”

“I think a lot of people on the North Side don’t want to think about this,” said Hunter, a criminal rights lawyer and Lincoln Park resident.

The display calls on Lincoln Park residents to recognize that each of the victims, all 18 or younger, died because of a citywide gun violence problem, Brown said.

“We want to invite the people of Lincoln Park to see each of these young people as our young people,” Brown said.

Addressing decades of intentional disinvestment from the South Side must be a team effort, speakers and attendees said.

“This is not a Black and white thing. This is a community thing,” said Michael Victor, an Englewood native and current Flossmoor resident who drove up from the south suburbs to come to the vigil. “If you let it happen on the South Side, it’s going to happen on the North. If you don’t care about those who have less and those that are living beyond your means, eventually it’s going to hit you.”

The six event speakers spanned a broad range of backgrounds and organizational experience, but all had a singular goal: To build safe communities through investment and disinvestment from police.

There have been more than 600 homicides in Chicago this year to date, according to police data, far outpacing years prior and reaching numbers not seen in the city since the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1990s.

“This is the violence that racism and white supremacy have wreaked on our communities,” Brown said.

The South and West sides disproportionately carry the weight of this violence, according to a data analysis by the Sun-Times.

“When we talk about violence in the city, we can’t neglect to talk about police violence,” Ciera Bates-Chamberlain, executive director of Live Free Illinois, said to the crowd. “The actual violence is state-sanctioned violence.”

The solution to this violence? Take money from the proposed $1.9 billion police budget for 2022, and distribute it to mental and physical health services, new legislation and community organizations.

“We need to build alternatives to policing,” said Cosette Ayele, organizing director at Raheem. “We need to ask: How can we rely less on police and more on each other?”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed 2022 budget aims to invest around $400 million in community safety initiatives, $52 million in mental health initiatives and $240 million in affordable housing programs, among several other investments. However, activists said that funds still need to be taken from the police.

“If we want to save lives, we need to reduce policing,” Bates-Chamberlain said. “The root causes of this violence are racism and poverty.”

Arturo Carillo, a social worker and leader from the Collaborative for Community Wellness, said he wants structural change for mental health resources.

Residents of the most affluent neighborhoods in Chicago have access to 4.5 therapists per 1000 residents, while residents in low-income neighborhoods have just 0.2 therapists for 1000 residents, Carillo said, referencing a 2018 study done by his organization.

“It’s a tale of two cities,” he said. “Who gets the majority of the mental health services? …Our main social service is policing.”

Amika Tendaji, executive director of Black Lives Matter Chicago and co-founder of Ujimaa Medics, spoke on the importance of physical health services and education.

Tendaji trains people in life-saving medical techniques like how to treat gunshot wounds and asthma attacks.

“You don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse to know how to care for someone in your community,” Tendaji said.

Bernard Johnson, 62, from Lawndale, can personally testify to the power of investment. Johnson lost his son to gun violence in 2006 and struggled with homelessness. Five years ago, Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church first pulled him out of homelessness, he said.

“We don’t invest in people,” he said. “But the church invested in me.”

The vigil ended with a call to action to continue fighting for the victims of gun violence and safer communities.

“We have some real work to do,” Rev. Brittany “Smash” Caine-Conley, a co-sponsor of the event said. “The only people unsafe in wealthy white neighborhoods are people of color and people experiencing homelessness.”