Gov. J.B. Pritzker holds a bill that he just signed during a press conference at the Washington Park Fieldhouse in the Washington Park neighborhood, Friday afternoon, Dec. 10, 2021. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Pritzker wants much of that money to be distributed by next spring and summer, when shootings typically increase in Chicago.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed legislation paving the way for $250 million in state funding to community groups that are working to reduce gun violence in Chicago’s hardest-hit neighborhoods and other parts of Illinois suffering the ripple effects of a nationwide crime spike.
The Reimagine Public Safety Act, which created a new state office for firearm violence prevention, was part of the budget Pritzker signed in the spring.
The trailer bill that was signed Friday — which state lawmakers advanced during the fall veto session — gives officials in the Illinois Department of Human Services more leeway in issuing the millions in grant funding and expands eligibility for groups already working to “interrupt” violence, according to Pritzker’s office.
Before signing the bill at a Washington Park news conference, Pritzker outlined Chicago’s most recent spate of fatal shootings — including that of a 71-year-old Chinatown resident who was apparently targeted at random earlier this week — and committed to investing in “neighborhoods that have been truly forgotten.”
“There are the countless children who have been taken from us far, far too soon. Too much tragedy. Too much loss. We are all here to say enough is enough,” Pritzker said, noting “the scourge of rising violence” has extended well beyond Chicago.
At least 756 murders had been committed citywide this year through Dec. 5, an increase of 4% compared to 2020 and a 60% jump from 2019, according to Chicago Police data. It’s on pace to be one of the city’s deadliest years since the mid-1990s.
The vast majority of those homicides have been gun deaths. Overall, city police have investigated more than 3,300 shootings this year, a 9% increase from last year and 67% higher than 2019.
Last month, Pritzker declared gun violence a “public health crisis” while pledging the $250 million in funding to anti-violence groups over the next three years.
That money will be available by application to community organizations focused on street-based violence interruption, trauma-related therapy, after-school and summer programming, among other anti-violence measures.
State Rep. Justin Slaughter speaks during a press conference in Washington Park Friday.
Sponsoring state Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, called the latest effort the third prong of the effort — after police and sentencing reform — to rethink a criminal justice system that has disproportionately harmed Black and Brown communities.
“It’s absolutely critical that we not entertain the option of turning back the clock, to employ the old failed policies of the past that amount to ‘lock them up, throw away the key’ approaches,” Slaughter said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot — who did not attend the bill-signing — hailed the legislation in a written statement, saying “[c]reating partnerships across all levels of government with our community stakeholders must continue in order to holistically and effectively prevent and reduce crime.”
Pritzker said he wants the grant money to be distributed before temperatures rise next spring and summer, when gun violence typically increases.
Groups interested in applying for grants can do so via the state Human Services website.
Contributing: David Struett