We have a serious gun violence problem in Champaign County.
Our citizens are killing each other at record-breaking rates.
Many reasons have been given and many solutions have been offered. The News-Gazette has been running a series of articles, or what they call "conversations", with dozens of local officials and citizens expressing various opinions on this deadly topic.
But aside from all the good information the articles provide, one critical fact remains: people are killing each other on the streets of our beloved community. Now.
This is an immediate problem that demands an immediate response.
We no longer live in the community I came to 54 years ago where a single murder in the county was a shocking rarity. Now we routinely count the deaths in the dozens and the shootings in the hundreds.
Tragically, the city of Champaign is the epicenter of this violence in our community.
It seems that no place in Champaign is safe from the shooters.
Champaign has also become the epicenter of gun violence controversy epitomized by the scorn city council members Alicia Beck and Michael Foellmer heaped on two soft-spoken seniors who dared express concerns for their safety.
That these citizens were white was apparently a disqualifying factor for the race-obsessed council members. These insensitive officials seemed to think that the couple's fear of death-by-bullet was an irrelevant concern compared to their woke race-based sensibilities.
Now feeling heavy pressure from an incensed public distraught over the longstanding and festering gun violence debacle, and the dismissive and tepid reaction to it by city officials, the city is scrambling to catch-up.
Their instinctive response was to do more social programming. Their plan is to spend $6.2 million of federal Covid funding on a variety of local programs including new race-based "equity and engagement" programs.
These two years of equity programs and the like may or may not help. We won't know for 5 to 10, or even 20 years.
However, let's be honest. We have had many such social program efforts in the past. This is not new.
Yet we are where we are today.
And what happens after two years of Covid spending on programs? Problem solved? Problem forgotten? Will we have more "equity" but no fewer killings?
Meanwhile, the shooting spree continues.
How do we address it right now and prevent more people from dying and more families from suffering?
Priorities one, two and three must be to get the guns off the street. Now. Not from honest citizens but from criminals who illegally have them.
You must staunch the wound before you can heal the patient.
The first antidote is simply to have enough police officers.
In this regard, Champaign has failed its citizens miserably.
The city has let the size of the police force dwindle to the point where it is short an incredible 25 staff. That's an inconceivable 20% of the force.
Since this decline didn't happen overnight it makes you wonder if it was simply neglect by city leaders or a stealthy way to defund the police.
Nonetheless, the bill for this major decline has now come due.
Of course now that the light is shining brightly upon them, city leaders are now desperately trying to hire new officers. But where applications used to be counted in the hundreds, they are now counted in the tens. We will see how that works out. You can't have a handful of applications for 25 jobs and expect it to end well.
And there is a leadership crisis at the police station. Command staff have found it better to leave than stay given the prevailing negative attitudes about police and devastating force shortages. Morale is low.
The second antidote, then, is that the city desperately needs leaders who tangibly express real support for the police, not half-hearted support because of political necessity or convenience.
And the most meaningful way to show that support is to back the police when they do the kind of proactive policing -- including traffic stops -- that effectively remove guns from the street and lock offenders in jail.
I have heard many people protest the measures I am suggesting because they say that "you can't jail your way out of the problem".
Well, I disagree with such a broad and indiscriminate statement.
Maybe you can't solve every societal problem that makes the shooters shoot, but you can sure make a serious and meaningful dent in the problem that makes a difference to potential victims.
Here is a relevant example of what I mean.
In 1993 new president Bill Clinton faced a massive violent crime problem. The national crime rate per 100,000 citizens for murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault nearly quadrupled between 1960 and 1992.
In response, congress passed, and Clinton signed, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The "Crime Bill" supported and funded tough law enforcement and prosecution measures and tough sentences for violent criminals, particularly ones with long criminal histories.
After the bill’s passage, and the passage of similar laws by the states, the violent crime rate was cut in half within 20 years.
What does that mean other than being an impressive statistic?
In terms of the lives of real people, if the 1994 crime rate had gone unaddressed and had persisted 20 years later, a shocking 14,300 more citizens would have been killed in 2014 alone, and 41,000 more women would have been raped.
Protecting these lives was an undeniable real-life benefit of the crime bill. It is an overwhelming case against those vocal activists who vehemently argue that "prison does no good". Well, prison does do good because it unequivocally denies violent criminals the opportunity to kill and rape innocents.
At this point in our local tragedy, we have to hope that the Champaign police can rapidly ramp up their numbers with fully trained and competent new officers.
However, equally important is that our leaders must also genuinely recognize the value of our police. They need to actually "have their backs". They need to regularly and publicly give them the moral support they need to keep us safe and to save lives.
But if their ideology, as was so disgustingly displayed by Beck and Foellmer, prevents them from doing so, they need to get out of the way so others can do it for them... and for us.
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