UChicago Takes Aim at Chicago’s Persistent Cycle of Violence

Nationwide, the rate of deaths by gun violence this year alone is already forecast to reach the highest level in two decades — and Chicago is on pace to reach its highest annual homicide tally in 25 years.

The UChicago Urban Network has long been studying violence and the many contributory factors to the problem in Chicago and on Wednesday is hosting a discussion on breaking the cycle of violence to make the city a model for rebuilding traumatized communities.

Franklin Cosey-Gay, executive director for the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, which is housed at the University of Chicago and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that understanding the power of collaboration is key.

“It’s not about a specific program as much as it is about a comprehensive approach that cuts across sectors and that focuses on bringing people together to really build capacity.” said Cosey-Gay. “It’s not only building capacity from within organizations, but across organizations through coalition work.”

Cosey-Gay says that structural changes, including mass school closures — many of which occurred in the Bronzeville neighborhood where his organization works — have had a devastating impact on the community.

“When you break up the community social fabric then you’re essentially creating an environment that doesn’t allow communities to be healthy,” said Cosey-Gay.

He also notes the loss of low-wage industrial jobs from the city that has led to high levels of unemployment in neighborhoods of color that are already economically depressed.

The impact on children’s mental health in those communities has been devastating. Cosey-Gay says a survey his organization conducted of children and adolescents in neighborhoods with persistently high levels of violence produced disturbing results.

“One out of three people that we have interviewed have known someone that has been shot. One out of five have known someone that has been killed. And so when we ask questions around exposure (to violence) and ask about mental health — one out of three children don’t feel like their life is worth living,” said Cosey-Gay. “When you’re exposed to that level of violence that has a tremendous impact on your overall health and that has a tremendous impact on the community as well.”

Dr. Kenneth Wilson is the medical director for UChicago Medicine’s Trauma Center in Hyde Park which opened in 2018 and rapidly became one of the busiest trauma centers treating gunshot victims in the country.

Wilson says that while he and his team may have done incredible work to repair the physical injuries of gunshot victims – that is not enough.

“We recognize that once they exit the trauma center, we may have done a phenomenal job of fixing their physiology – repairing injuries that would have been life-ending – but the psychology of having those injuries. The things that got them in front of a gun to begin with – we cannot fix,” said Wilson.

He says he and his colleagues do what they can to speak to and mentor some of the victims of violence they see, but he says that ultimately the high levels of gun violence in communities of color are a result of systemic racism and policy decisions that have stripped economic opportunity from those areas.

“It’s a lack of opportunity that has been intentional,” said Wilson. “Decreasing access to economic employment, redlining …. and the influx of guns and drugs into the neighborhoods. It’s all right here. We’re ground zero for those policies.”

The UChicago Urban Network will be host a webinar Wednesday titled, “Confronting Trauma to Stop the Cycle of Violence in Chicago.” For registration information, visit UChicago’s website.


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.