Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton announced last month that he is moving to Chicago to use his national platform to fight against the rise in violence associated with handguns. Sharpton, who has been working with local ministers to shine a national spotlight on the issue, told the Associated Press, “We don’t have all the answers, but we need to raise all the questions publicly and consistently.”
Sharpton’s move is reminiscent of the one made by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. King, who moved into a West Side apartment at the height of the civil-rights movement to protest housing segregation and other urban conditions in the black community.
Sharpton plans to make the move in September and will be filming his MSNBC show and broadcasting his daily radio show from Chicago while he stays in a rented apartment on the city’s West Side. Local leaders are encouraged by Sharpton’s commitment to fight with them to curb violence in the city.
Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder and executive director of the Chicago anti-violence group Cure Violence, noting Sharpton’s longtime advocacy for gun violence prevention and intervention, said, “In Chicago, or in any city, any visibility is of value if it brings the right responses, if it brings prevention and intervention responses.”
Along with working with local ministers such as Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Church, Sharpton is organizing an anti-violence rally with Martin Luther King III to be held in August. In addition Sharpton is setting up a new youth mentoring program in the city.
Sharpton, who led the national effort that resulted in the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has been under fire by his detractors for not doing more to bring attention to the issue of black-on-black gun violence in Chicago.
Although overall homicides are down 29% since 2012 and shooting incidents are down 25%, gun violence has surged in Chicago over the past month. Forty-seven people were shot and nine killed over Father’s Day weekend. Nine people were shot and killed over the Fourth of July weekend. Fifty-four people have died as a result of gun violence in Chicago since the start of the Zimmerman trial. Many are concerned that the city's anti-violence policing strategies, which include extensive overtime by city police, are both failing and unsustainable.
Chicago has some of the most restrictive gun-control laws in the nation. However they seem to be having little effect on the proliferation of illegal handguns in the city. Last week Illinois’ General Assembly overrode an amendatory veto by Democratic Governor Pat Quinn to make Illinois the last state to enact a concealed weapons law. The legislation was the result of a federal appeals court ruling that found the ban to be unconstitutional. The Chicago Tribune reported Quinn sought to add restrictions including “banning firearms from establishments that sell any alcohol, limiting a person to carrying one concealed firearm at a time, and restricting magazines for concealed weapons to no more than 10 rounds.”
Chances are gun control, the Illinois concealed-carry bill, and the city's anti-violence policing strategies will be hot-button issues for Sharpton.