Young people dream up a safer summer in Chicago

This story was originally published by The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence in America. Sign up for its newsletters here.

Every Chicago summer follows a familiar pattern: Gun violence begins to spike around Memorial Day, sending municipal leaders into a fit over how to keep young people safe while community members offer up ideas and push back against efforts they doubt will help. This year, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s response has centered on modifying the city’s decades-old curfew.

After 16-year-old Seandell Holliday was shot and killed in Millennium Park in mid-May, Lightfoot issued an executive order that changed the curfew from 11 PM to 10 PM and expanded its scope from those under 16 to include 17-year-olds. She also banned minors who don’t have an adult with them from entering the park after 6 PM between Thursday and Sunday, and added checkpoints and metal detectors at the entrance of the iconic park. 

Despite local pushback and evidence that curfews may actually increase crime, the Chicago City Council codified the changes in late May. And the decision to ban young people from being outside late at night came as the city struggled with access to another type of public space: A lifeguard shortage threatened the reopening of public pools.

When she learned about the new rules, Indya Pinkard, 19, felt frustrated. A youth organizer with the grassroots racial justice organization Communities United, she questioned whether forcing young people inside was the best solution to the city’s ongoing gun violence crisis. If older folks get to be outside enjoying the long-awaited Chicago summer, she wondered, why shouldn’t young people?

For 18-year-old Markell Green, the curfew changes were warranted. Green participates in Chicago CRED, an anti-violence organization. He said the city needed to address the growing trend of large crowds of young people gathering downtown, and in his mind, keeping teens indoors was a valid way to do that. 

“They was dancing on top of cars, hitting police cars,” Green said. “It was like a riot. No one was there to tell them to stop.” 

While gun violence takes a significant toll on the city’s youth, kids and teens under 19 were the third-most-impacted age group: They are 23 percent of the city’s population and 17 percent of the city’s shooting victims, according to police data analyzed by the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The people most represented in the data were between 20 and 29 years old, who made up about 39 percent of the city’s total shooting victims last year. 

But Chicago youth often feel left out of the policy decisions that affect them. So we set out to ask young people like Pinkard—teens from neighborhoods like Austin and Roseland that are most affected by gun violence—what would actually make them feel safer this summer. 

Each person we spoke with shared the more subtle ways Chicago’s gun violence crisis has altered their relationship with the city, causing them to be hyper-aware of their surroundings or leaving them wondering if they shouldn’t be outside at all. Some offered suggestions for the large-scale changes they’d need to better navigate this crisis, including curbing accessibility to guns. They also pointed to some less-obvious solutions, like expanding the public transit system so that buses and trains reach more communities and run more consistently—because in some areas, long wait times make them feel unsafe. These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Indya Pinkard, 19, from Austin 

Indya Pinkard. CREDIT: Olivia Obineme for The Trace

What really got me started with Communities United was I had lost my little cousin due to gun violence. She took her own life on her 18th birthday. This helps me try to get as many young people to just consider a different route.

My first reaction to the curfew changes was frustrated. I was angry. Honestly, it don’t matter if the youth is on the streets or not, our community is still going to have violence. Whether it’s young people or old, we’re still going to have violence. So what’s another way around this than just this curfew? We should have more activities, after-school programs, more mental health resources and hospitals. 

In our generation, we’re used to older people not listening to us or hearing what we have to say. We have voices, too. What if they had curfews? They would feel the same way as the youth. Not all young people are criminals. Not all young people are bad. There’s some very intelligent, good youth out here that are being punished because of the acts of a few. We only have one life. Let us live it to the fullest. 

Deanna Robinson, 17, from Greater Grand Crossing 

Deanna Robinson. CREDIT: Olivia Obineme for The Trace

The youth in Chicago need more respect from adults. When it comes to young people’s opinions, we can’t really get our points across and it’s frustrating and exhausting. I feel like people in power abuse their power. They feel like everything should be under their control. But we all live in this world, so we all should have a say-so in what’s going on. Anybody can have a gun. You can’t just say the youth is causing all these crimes. It’s just people, period. 

I would say the curfew is beneficial because 10 is kind of late to be outside. But at the same time, it’s limiting what you can do. It’s limiting summer fun. Personally, I like being outside. But I might be at the beach at 10:31 and a police officer sees I’m outside, they’ll be like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I don’t like interacting with police. I feel like they be trying to get down on people so I just keep my distance. 

When I’m outside, I always check in with people at home. I always make sure I know who’s going to be in a certain area or what’s going on there before I feel like I should go there. I’m rarely alone. I feel like anything can happen, so it’s better to be with somebody. 

If the city hosted more events [for young people], then it would be more controlled, which would mean people would be more safe. I feel like Chicago needs more clubs like the Boys & Girls Club. I love music, so a free music fest would be A1, especially for youth because it’s a lot of young rappers in Chicago. 

It’s kind of depressing to think about gun violence because you just know it’s so high-risk nowadays and people are just dying every day. It’s kind of hurtful to think that you can be somewhere and then you can just get shot. I don’t really know how you prevent something like that, but at the same time something should be done. 

Davione Jackson, 17, from South Shore 

Davione Jackson. CREDIT: Olivia Obineme for The Trace

I had a friend that passed away to gun violence a year and a couple months ago. We were close and getting closer, so to see him on a T-shirt was like, it’s really true. He’s really gone. I’m not getting my friend back. I feel like this isn’t leading youth in the right direction because all they’re going to know is gun violence, gun violence, gun violence. They’re not going to know about what it is to be a child. What it is about growing up. They’re just going to know my uncle got shot. My brother got shot. 

The amount of bodies dropping daily is just outrageous. It makes me be more cautious. I can’t walk two steps without looking behind me. Any car that comes up too slow, I get to second guessing it. Should I run? Should I stay here and just finish walking? I don’t really go nowhere unless I know I’m going to be with five people or more. I [leave the house to] do TikTok as well, but other than that, I just stay home. 

I didn’t even know we had a curfew still, so I wouldn’t say it made me feel safer. You can’t really control what people want to do with their free time. Some young people work every single day with no breaks just to feed and support their families, so they want to go outside and have fun. I’m pretty sure they’re still going to go outside. 

Being young in Chicago is crazy. There’s not a lot of things that you can do. The city needs more free things for the youth. Everything here you have to pay for. More open basketball courts. A trampoline park. Just let the kids have fun and enjoy their childhood more because that’s not something they can go back to. 

If adults are not going to hear the voice of the youth, how are you going to protect them? If we’re constantly screaming out what we need and how we want to improve our neighborhoods, then how are you going to improve it? You need to be able to hear our side of the story in order to make adjustments. 

I went to a [Latino] school and the area over there is good. But I don’t want people to think you shouldn’t be around Black people or you should only be around the [Latino] neighborhoods because it’s safer. Violence can happen anywhere. There’s certain parts of the south side, east side, west side where you can actually enjoy and be yourself. I really would want that negative thing of like, “I won’t go to Chicago. I know it’s bad. I know it’s a lot of shooting, a lot of killing and violence.” I really want people to get that out of their mind. Chicago is a beautiful city. 


Instead, we need to address the root cause of violence: inequality.


We need money for schools, after-school programs, and mental health to change the status quo.


We likely won’t see the 75 percent cut that organizers have asked for, but there are some proposals on the table.

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