CHATHAM — Can Chicago go from being the murder capital of the nation to a model for curbing gun violence?
Rev. Al Sharpton thinks so.
At Tuesday news conference at WVON-AM studio, Sharpton announced plans for town hall meetings in the city to address ongoing gun violence on the south and west sides.
"This way we get to hear from both sides of town where gun violence is high," Sharpton said. "I want Chicago to be a model for the nation on how to solve gun violence."
The 59-year-old Baptist minister from New York met Tuesday with more than 70 community stakeholders at a three-hour breakfast meeting at Chicago State University. The Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Austin, was among those who attended the meeting.
"Violence is down in Chicago and it is due to those who are in the trenches. And a lot of those people in the trenches were at that meeting," Hatch said.
Though Sharpton just recently began commuting to the city to do this work, he said he wants to hold the meetings soon, citing concerns about "gun violence as we approach the holidays."
"I would hope we could have these town hall meetings before Dr. King's birthday [Jan. 15] to get ideas from where we need to go on the issue of gun violence," Sharpton said.
Absent from the meeting though were several South Side community leaders. They included Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Pullman; Rev. Corey Brooks, pastor of New Beginnings Church in Woodlawn; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
"All of them were invited to come," said Maureen Forte, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Action Network, a New York-based nonprofit organization Sharpton founded.
"Fr. Michael Pfleger [pastor of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham] was not able to attend but he did send a representative. I would have thought those that were not able to come would have at least sent someone in their place or responded back to our invitation."
Wayne Watson, president of Chicago State University, attended the meeting and said he supports Sharpton's effort to reduce gun violence.
"Our university prides itself on not only providing quality education to our students, but also in being an epicenter of community engagement," Watson said. "With the help of leaders like Rev. Sharpton, the entire CSU faculty, staff and students will continue formulating solutions for some of the most serious challenges our communities face."
Ald. Joann Thompson (16th), whose ward includes portions of Englewood, and state Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th), whose district includes North Lawndale, also attended the meeting, according to Sharpton.
College professor Conrad Worrill, director of the Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, and Minister Ishmael Muhammad from the Nation of Islam, were in attendance, said the Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin.
"Our community has been on the brunt end of some centuries of exploitation right here in our own country," said Acree. "But to have a barrage of community leaders attend the meeting showed promise and a genuine desire by them to be a part of the solution."
Sharpton said the meeting was kept secret "because we wanted people to be able to come and talk freely and not be pressed for time because reporters are outside knocking on the door."