Chicago has one of the largest shooting and homicide rates of major U.S. cities. Just this week we have news of teens shot in front of their local high school and a nine-year-old boy lured into an alley and executed because of his father’s gang connections. Today Dimas Salaberrios, pastor at Infinity Bible Church in New York City and author of Street God, provides an outsider’s perspective on Chicago’s violence problem and insight on what can be done differently.
Chicago’s violence should be viewed as the biggest humanitarian crisis in the country. This is worse to me than Columbine but very few people in greater Chicago view the growing number of shootings and homicides as a real and serious problem. Innocent victims are hit with bullets; children are being grazed by bullets and there is no real public outcry. I understand that most shootings are gang on gang–I get it, but even that must be shut down. One radio host laughed after I mentioned 45 people were shot in one weekend. He replied, “Chicago is crazy man.”
I came through Chicago from New York City to pray for these shootings to stop. My wife and two girls could not get over this crisis and we drove down to get a brief assessment of the situation. During the trip, I spoke with about 40 people from the suburbs to the inner city from all walks of life hoping to find someone with the “eye of the tiger,” a metaphor from Rocky III, which was the signal that someone was desperate to win this fight. Of the people I spoke with in Chicago, very few had the desperate drive to want to do something to eliminate the homicides in their city.
Most viewed the homicides as an impossible enemy to conquer and others felt very little need to jump in the battle fully. I remember when the bodies in New York City were overflowing the morgue and went down hospital hallways. It did not change until the clergy could not take it anymore. One clergyman in Chicago told me he was waiting for the mayor to give money to deal with it. Several people on the outskirts of Chicago view the crisis as someone else’s problem. In other words, they use the city for job centers but care very little about what happens after they drive down the 90 or 88 on their way home from work. The city is the financial supplier for their lifestyles, but not a place they try to nurture for good healthy existence. This thinking must be changed quickly.
I know change is possible because I’ve seen it happen in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City. I pastor a church there called Infinity Bible Church, and we couldn’t just sit back and watch the violence happen in our neighborhood.
In New York City, the clergy took homicides on as enemy number one. When a shooting happened we drove to the scene and met with the victim’s family and ministered to the gangs involved in real time. We built time into our schedules to spend with gang members and point them into new directions. The city put in speed bumps that slowed down drive-by shootings. A press conference was held after each shooting offering reward money for the shooters, resulting in the shooters either leaving town when the city cried out or going to jail. No one was silent and the police staked out the hot areas and caught gunmen in the act on a regular basis. Solving the homicide issue was more important than church meetings and the city knew it. Every victim became important and the gangs got the message that if you fire a shot, the whole city will quickly be all over you.
The Chicago clergy are on their way to making changes and several groups are trying to do different things, which is a step in the right direction. However, they need to hit this as priority number one. The eye of the tiger is not fully alive yet, but I have great hopes that it will come soon enough. If it was accomplished in NYC it can certainly be done in Chicago. The question is: how badly do you really want the homicides to stop?
Dimas Salaberrios is a former drug boss from New York City who turned his life around and is now pastor of Infinity Bible Church in the South Bronx. He is the president of Concerts of Prayer Greater New York and has been credited with eliminating homicides in one of the toughest housing projects in the South Bronx. Dimas shares his story and more strategies for transforming the drug and gang culture in his book, Street God. Learn more at streetgodbook.com.