Al Sharpton in Chicago: Some Hope Among the Skepticism

As the national leader prepares to host a town hall meeting, community activists are split on whether he can help stop the bloodshed.

The Rev. Al Sharpton
The Rev. Al Sharpton John Moore/Getty Images

The day before a planned town hall meeting in Chicago to be hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, an activist in Roseland, one of the city’s deadliest communities, expressed hope that Sharpton could help stanch the flow of blood of young black males.  

“I’m glad Al Sharpton’s here,” Diane Latiker, founder of Kids Off the Block, a youth-development organization on the city’s South Side, told The Root. “We need the help. Our young people are still killing each other. Gun violence is a big issue. Families are still hurting, and it is directly linked to the economy, jobs and education.”

She plans to bring up the issues Thursday night at the town hall meeting, which will be held at Hyde Park Academy, a stone’s throw away from President Barack Obama’s Chicago residence and where Obama himself has spoken. Sharpton says he hopes to host a few meetings leading up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, which will be observed on Jan. 20, when he hopes to offer solutions to the gun violence that has plagued the city’s South and West sides. He was unavailable to speak to The Root before Thursday’s meeting.

Gun violence in America—and Chicago in particular—is so bad that last month the national civil rights leader and MSNBC talk-show host moved into a temporary apartment in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side to shine the spotlight on the problem. He reportedly commutes to the city once a week.

“Part of my effort is to call attention to the crisis of violence in our city and our cities and those that are doing something about it,” he said on his MSNBC show, Politics Nation, at the time of his move in early November. “Just the first week of this month, gun violence in Chicago left six people dead and 17 wounded, including a 6-year-old boy.”

Chicago’s ghastly death narrative is known across the globe. In recent years the city has become known as “Chiraq,” a grim moniker that attempted to link Chicago’s murder rate to the death toll among U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Although the city recorded its lowest number of homicides in 2013, the numbers are still too high, and almost all of the deaths were African Americans, community activists lament.

As of Monday, the Chicago Tribune reports that there were 395 homicides citywide in 2013. While the final number will be far lower than last year’s 511, the number is closer to the 437 homicides in 2010 and 434 in 2011, the report says.

“While we’ve seen a drop, the numbers are still too high,” the Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Baptist Church in Austin, told The Root. Acree served as an escort for Sharpton during his initial visit. He acknowledged that Sharpton has a tough row to hoe in Chicago, where black communities are known to close to outsiders—even prominent African-American leaders.

“Chicagoans on the South and West sides are territorial and mistrustful of authority, for whatever reason,” he said. “They have been exploited and abused. But a person of Sharpton’s status seems to have a clearer path than most others.”