A Convergence of Two Crises: a Virus and Gun Violence

We’ve seen the power of Illinois’s government in coming together swiftly to assemble resources and pass legislation to keep residents safe from a pandemic. Why is our epidemic of gun violence any different?

Chicago’s Black communities have been ripped apart for decades by gun violence – with little action from our state legislature. The current Coronavirus crisis has made it crystal clear that when there’s a real desire to tackle an epidemic – our legislators can act swiftly. Now, they must do the same for gun violence.

In the face of this pandemic, we must recognize the consequences for communities across Chicago that are already most impacted by gun violence. Black Chicagoans now account for more than half of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 72 percent of virus-related fatalities, even though we make up a little less than a third of the population.

Our communities face continued, unaddressed structural inequalities – such as poverty, underperforming schools and a lack of access to public services – that add to our disproportionate impact during this crisis. Historic and systemic divestment in our neighborhoods paired with these structural inequalities leave Black communities the most vulnerable during this time.

Gun violence was a problem before Coronavirus – and it shows no signs of slowing down. Illinois residents have been ordered to stay home, yet gun violence continues to spread across Chicago like a virus of its own. Chicago saw the most violent day of 2020 so far this week when seven people were killed and 14 more were wounded in shootings across the city.

This gun violence epidemic will require major investments to correct. Firearm policies, significant resources for Black and Brown neighborhoods and real criminal justice reform are all necessary to reduce gun violence. SB 1966, The BIO (Block Illegal Gun Ownership) Bill, is a vital component of a much-needed gun violence reduction foundation that will help save lives.

SB 1966, The BIO Bill, helps to keep our communities safe from gun violence by stopping people who cannot pass a background check from obtaining or possessing a firearm. The Illinois House passed the bill nearly a year ago in May. Now it’s time for the Illinois Senate to work together to pass this life-saving legislation. Inaction from state leaders is inexcusable at any time. But as these two pandemics collide, the cost to Black communities is too high.

COVID-19 not only threatens the lives of Black residents, it also promises to bring more guns to Chicago’s streets. Purchasing a firearm to ward off a pandemic is flawed thinking. But that hasn’t stopped Illinois residents from contributing to a surge of gun sales in recent weeks. Tragically, many of the guns that people are “panic buying” today, will end up in the hands of individuals who cannot pass a criminal background check, increasing the chances of arming a potentially dangerous individual. We cannot let these illegal guns flood our neighborhoods and take even more lives.

Emotions are heightened during this stay at home order, which can have dangerous consequences. We must put safety measures in place to keep residents safe, not just from the virus.

Our government, rightly, moved fast to protect the city’s most vulnerable people including the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions during the COVID-19 outbreak. The same can and should be done to end the everyday violence that continues to take lives in Chicago’s most vulnerable communities.

Rev. Ciera Walker-Chamberlain

As the Lake County State’s Attorney, I am honored and humbled every day to lead the fight against crime, and to strive to ensure equal and just treatment under the law. I have been an attorney for twenty-two years – and each of those years has made me a stronger and smarter advocate for people, for ideas, and for the principles that unite us all.

I am so proud to lead an office of 140 dedicated colleagues who serve the public by prosecuting crime, advocating for victims, and planning crime prevention programs. I am also proud to work with hundreds of Lake County police officers on a daily basis to connect with every community and to develop comprehensive, holistic plans to respond to the mental health and economic crisis that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On one particular day, July 4, 2022, I was saddened, inspired, and motivated by the bravery of so many people. We will always stand with the victims and honor the police and other first responders who ran toward the danger. Just as so many heroes that day thought only of themselves, I also witnessed the prosecutors in my office answer the call to serve survivors and their community – even on one of its darkest days.

Every moment that I have been your legal representative, I have worked tirelessly to oversee prosecutions and to implement policies that make my family and my neighbors safer in the short term and in the long term. That is the job of the State’s Attorney: to prosecute, to innovate, and to strategically plan.

I was raised in a small town. My parents are teachers, and from them, I learned that everyone must be treated equally and that America’s sacred mission is to provide a political, economic, and legal system that allows anyone to prosper regardless of the circumstances of their birth. After graduating from Knox College and the University of Chicago Law School, I spent two years at a first-rate civil law firm in Chicago where I learned that hard work and attention to detail on every case mean the difference between success and failure.

With my wonderful wife Stephanie, I am raising my two sons, Sam and Teddy, in Lake County. Nothing is more important to me than my family’s safety and I bring that passion and determination to protect all families with me to work every day.

I joined the Lake County Public Defender’s Office in 2003 and started my own law firm in 2009. From 2003 until 2020, I watched the Lake County legal system fail to prioritize violent crime, prevent wrongful prosecutions, or address racial disparities.

So, in 2019, I decided to run for State’s Attorney so that I could serve our community by improving a local legal system that cared more about covering up its mistakes and biases than uncovering new and innovative ways to help people.

I won the 2020 election, and became the first Democrat to hold this position in 40 years. Bringing in a new party wasn’t as important as ending 40 years of one mindset that had forgotten the people and that had failed to act urgently to develop new strategic plans to prevent crime while also ensuring that each prosecution is smart, moral, and just.

We have followed through on our promises. We have built the first-ever violent crimes unit, increased prosecutors in our domestic violence division, and vastly upgraded our cyber lab. Now, we have top-notch software and personnel to finally keep up with those who would exploit others.

We have been awarded a large federal grant to bring the first ever Human Trafficking Task Force to Lake County. We have deepened our investment in people by bringing in more victim specialists and raising the salaries of many of our prosecutors.

But the work goes on. We must expand our prevention efforts that are starting with the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative launched in 2022. And we know that the opioid crisis touches thousands of lives throughout this country.

I am proud to serve on the Executive Board of the Lake County Opioid Initiative which has been working tirelessly since its founding in 2012 to reverse a devastating trend of increased overdoses. In 2022, our office was part of a national settlement against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

As an attorney of 22 years, I have committed my life to helping people, and I have conducted over 70 jury trials in Lake County, and handled appeals that have culminated in over 20 oral arguments before the appellate court and Supreme Court of Illinois.

I see my time in this office as the next phase of helping a community that I love and where I have chosen to raise my family. In my first term, we have made Lake County safer and fairer through just prosecutions, constitutional policing, and innovative crime prevention policies.