Jesse Sullivan: Chicago's out-of-control crime crisis a failure of leadership

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More children in Chicago at risk of being shot than dying from COVID

Alderman Anthony Napolitano and father of six Willie Preston with reaction on ‘Fox & Friends First.’

It was not so long ago, while standing in Helmand, that an Afghan village elder looked me in the eyes and said, “You see these young Afghan men? They have no jobs or opportunities, help us solve that problem and we’ll have peace.”

I have worked in some of the most violent, crime-ridden and corrupt cities on earth, including Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Lagos, Nigeria; and Helmand, Afghanistan, where I saw good intentions go to die. Repeated U.S. government handouts, meant to alleviate suffering, instead perpetuated a culture of dependency and created patronage networks that enriched corrupt power brokers rather than incentivize hard work and job creation.

I started an organization to help the job creators working in these places because I believed it was the best way to create opportunity and prevent crime and violence. Over time, I began investing in these entrepreneurs, giving them even more resources to grow and hire faster. My organization, Alter, is an effort to use the best tools we have – capitalism and job creation – to further the objectives I sought for my neighbors: security, opportunity and prosperity. 

Wherever I went, I carried the torch of American exceptionalism – bringing the promise of a shining city on a hill all could admire and aspire to emulate. But while running my business here in Central Illinois, I’ve watched the state that I love ruined by the same political failings, dependency and violence that I was trying to fix abroad. 

I’m a fifth-generation Illinoisan committed to raising my kids and grandkids here. But it’s getting harder every day. Our taxes are so high with so little reward, corruption so ingrained, and crime so rampant that in the last decade, only West Virginia has lost more people. States like Florida and Texas beckon, with lower taxes, better safety and more personal freedoms.

Recently I sat in a church on the South Side of Chicago with a pastor who told me he had buried eight children in the last year, murdered by violent criminals. Another looked me in the eye and repeated the same words I’d heard years ago: “These young men need jobs and opportunities.” 

When communities see criminals right back on their streets without delay, they reach the only logical conclusion: the state is unable or unwilling to defend them. 

A few weeks ago, I met Angela Gregg, the inspiring mother of 4-year-old Mychal “MJ” Moultrie, a young boy who was shot and killed while getting a haircut in his father’s house this past summer. Gregg has given herself no time to grieve, throwing herself into the task of seeking justice for MJ, and working to ensure no more mothers will have to face the horrific task of burying their sons. 

A state that stands by as children are killed suffers from a devastating absence of moral leadership. A state’s attorney who refuses to charge violent criminals feeds a culture of lawlessness and fear. This state’s attorney has dropped charges against 30% of felony defendants – 35% more than her predecessor – and dumped tens of thousands into “executive review,” where they will never see the light of day. 

When communities see criminals right back on their streets without delay, they reach the only logical conclusion: the state is unable or unwilling to defend them. This legal cynicism plunges victims’ families like Gregg’s into a devastating spiral, where witnesses are afraid to come forward and justice is not served.

At a time when Illinois government is overreaching into our lives, our homes and our schools, it is pulling back on its most sacred obligation: keeping us safe. I cannot stand by as my state becomes more and more reminiscent of the corrupt warzones I’ve seen. 

No matter what our elected officials tell us, this is not normal. Chicago’s homicide rate in 2021 is six times larger than New York’s and three times bigger than Los Angeles’. It should not be extreme to suggest that our elected officials step up, support law enforcement and do their job to keep our communities safe.

Leadership is about prioritization. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has shown us what he cares about. In the final week of this year’s legislative session, Pritzker prioritized gerrymandered maps and parental disenfranchisement: abortions without parental notification for 14-year-olds. When he finally found time to talk about crime, Pritzker announced an executive order that fell back on typical far-left talking points: blame guns and throw money at the problem.

Let’s be clear: this is not about “black vs. blue” lives. Nearly 95% of the victims of homicide in Chicago over this past year have been minorities. A well-run city should expect effective community policing to be carried out consistently and tenaciously regardless of income level or ethnicity. Real criminal justice reform has little to do with setting violent repeat offenders free on bail, and much more to do with supporting reintegration and reducing recidivism for nonviolent offenders once they are behind bars.

This failure of leadership runs deep. Elected leaders’ refusal to tackle underlying economic issues makes it impossible to spend money on what’s actually needed; state spending on pensions in Illinois has mushroomed over 533% since 2000, while spending on social services has dropped by nearly 15%.

The truth is this is not about left vs. right – it is about down vs. up. Illinois has the people and the grit to be the best place to start a business and raise a family. We deserve a government that helps rather than stands in the way.

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