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Chicago Pastor Speaks Out About The City's Deadly Wave Of Violence


The city of Chicago just had one of the most violent weekends in several years. More than 70 people were shot; 12 were killed. More than 300 people in Chicago have been shot to death this year. Here's Mayor Rahm Emanuel.


RAHM EMANUEL: There are too many guns on the street, too many people with criminal records on the street. And there is a shortage of values about what is right, what is wrong - what is acceptable, what is condoned and what is condemned.

MARTIN: Joining us now, Reverend Ira Acree. He is the pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church on Chicago's West Side. Reverend, thanks so much for being with us.

IRA ACREE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: We heard the mayor there say that this is about many things - too many guns, too many criminals - but also what he says is a moral failing. Do you agree with him?

ACREE: I am taken aback by the arrogance of this mayor. In the midst of a crazy, horrifying week of violence, he blames the victim. He's talking about values. He needs to consider the fact when he closed 50 schools in black and brown neighborhoods, that was a statement of his values. When he closed mental health institutes, that was a statement of his values. When he sits on a half a billion dollars of HUD money and we have homeless people in Chicago, that's a statement of his values. He needs to take ownership and begin to stop his neglect of an entire side of town.

MARTIN: I mean, he...

ACREE: This - yeah, go ahead.

MARTIN: Well, as you know, he would paint it differently. He would say that this is a priority for him, and what he is suggesting is that he needs help from people like you, from people who live in these neighborhoods, to call out the crimes, not just call when the crime happens and report the crime but to report the criminal, the perpetrator, if they know who it is. Is that a problem?

ACREE: It is a problem. But we must realize that he has created a certain culture here. Sadly, this horrific violence illustrates a tale of two cities that currently exist in Chicago. Just this same weekend, one Chicago's enjoying outdoor meals and watching shows and attending Lollapalooza while another one is being shot down, filling up trauma centers and preparing funeral arrangements. Of course we have these conditions that he has helped expand the disparity on.

These people are afraid. They are in a Catch-22. Fear keeps them from communicating with the police. But for many years, I thought people were just being insensitive and being naive and irrational, but they are aware of the low clearance rate as it relates to homicide. And they also don't have a witness protection program for the people who turn in these cold-hearted killers. So you know, you got a whole lot of stuff going on when you look in Chicago.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, though. I mean, violence and gun violence in particular was a problem that precedes Rahm Emanuel, does it not?

ACREE: It does. But while the violence has gone down all across the country in the last couple of years, unfortunately, it has not been duplicated here in Chicago at the same percentage - still has not.

MARTIN: So if - you say it's about the policies that the mayor has put forward. He also is encouraging communities themselves to take some responsibility. If you acknowledge what you're saying, that some of this is about city decisions - but if you set that aside, do the communities in any way bear some responsibility in trying to fix it? I understand the long corruption problems in the Chicago Police Department. But are there some good actors? Are there some people who have been able to engender some trust in these communities that people would feel comfortable going to them and identifying the perpetrators when they know who they are?

ACREE: Absolutely. There are people in the faith community that people would trust. And let me just address what you said a second ago. That was a loaded question. The fact of the matter is this mayor is the one person who is not concerned with our community. It's evident in his budget. Just Sunday, when all of the violence began to transpire, he was downtown making a $10 million investment in plants and in play areas while people were being mowed away with assault weapons. There are people on the ground. There are faith leaders on the ground. There are families who are - they're fragmented. Nevertheless - but they're still trying to persevere and work hard every day for long hours for a mean boss at low pay. But they are still out there trying to take care of their family. I really resent it when he pushes it back on us. We need all hands on deck.

MARTIN: Have you talked to him? Would you welcome a face-to-face conversation? Would you welcome him to your neighborhood?

ACREE: I mean, he's the mayor. He can come in the neighborhood any way that he wants and any time that he wants. But...

MARTIN: That's different than being invited.

ACREE: I cannot take him serious because for 7 1/2 years he has neglected us. He has oppressed us. He has disinvested in us. And I could take it - can't take it serious. I mean, it's election season. Why do we worry or take his actions any more serious now?

MARTIN: So what guidance do you give your parishioners? I mean, when people come to you and are clearly suffering an emotional toll because of all this violence who have - which has taken so many loved ones from people, do you just say...

ACREE: We walk by faith. We walk by faith. You know, we trust in God. And we also know what the Scripture says - without a vision, people perish. And even though this mayor does not have a vision that has inclusivity for us, we must have a vision for ourselves. We must pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps and keep persevering forward.

MARTIN: You can have faith, and you can believe in a better vision. But is there anything practical that your parishioners can do?

ACREE: Yeah, we can vote out these politicians that don't have any interest for us, who just want our support on Election Day and then support other communities afterwards.

MARTIN: Reverend Ira Acree is the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago. Reverend, thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

ACREE: Thank you so much. God bless.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLENDED BABIES' "EAGLE MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.