Long-term violence reduction strategies are to be found in the social fabric of our communities and not in our criminal justice system. Our criminal justice system is reactive and is not built to be proactive, i.e., they respond to violence and for the most part do not prevent violence. Prevention plays out in our ability to educate, employ, and assist community members in dealing with issues in their life before they rise to the level of the criminal justice system. By the time the criminal justice system intercedes, victimization has already usually occurred that could have potentially been avoided through the commitment of adequate social and community resources.
Anyone who pays even a minimal amount of attention to the Chicago media is constantly bombarded with evidence of our society’s failures. This week is different in that we have proof of the fallout of a past failure (the shooting of a mentally disturbed homeless man in the loop) mixed with a forecast of what is to come based on decisions currently made by our political leaders (the closing of numerous area mental health clinics). Confused? Allow me to explain with examples drawn from the last seven days of Chicago’s history.
Results of a Past Failure…
Friday Aug. 28th – Knife-wielding man slain by police identified
On Friday, Chicago Police shot and killed 45-year-old Jacob Paul Stolarz, a mentally deranged homeless man, in the loop. Stolarz’ struggle to exist on the streets and the sudden violent end to his life indicate breaches in the social fabric of our community institutions which are designed to assist people like Stolarz with his mental troubles. It is clear that our mental health treatment capacity was inadequate to deal with Stolarz’ problems and thus it rippled into the lives of many others: the police officer who shot Stolarz, the bystander who came close to being seriously injured or even killed by Stolarz or the officer who shot Stolarz, and the officer who was accidently shot by his partner as the officer fired on Stolarz – not to mention all the bystanders who witnessed the event and are forever changed by that experience.
Foretelling of What’s to Come
Friday Aug 28 – Daley’s Mental Health Blunder
Progress Illinois reports that Mayor Daley once again is considering closing mental health clinics after a reduction in state funds that were to go to funding the clinics. When we close mental health clinics, incidents like last weeks’ shooting of a mentally ill person will only become more common. It is pretty clear from talking to those individuals who serve our growing homeless population (I volunteer at a men’s shelter on the north side several times a year), that our current capacity to treat mental illness in Chicago is inadequate. It is also clear that any reduction in treatment services is not a cost effective way to reduce violence; rather, it is a cost effective way to increase violence. Unfortunately, our political office holders are too often worried more about the immediate fiscal bottom line that is not based on future costs which will result from current cuts.
Sadly, these two events demonstrate how current violence reduction strategies are not tied to increasing the capacity of our social institutions to deal humanely, efficiently, and cost effectively with problems our community members experience. The closing of mental health treatment centers will only lead to future violence in our communities. Without a change in our current policies, future violence is assured. That means that there are future victims waiting to pay the ultimate price for our current policymakers’ failures.