CHICAGO — Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is fed up with violence in the city.
When Johnson goes to parts of Chicago that are affected by the excessive amount of shootings, he says neighborhoods residents are at their wit's end.
"Every week, I go into these communities, people ask me or beg me, 'Superintendent, do something about this violence,'" Johnson said at a news conference Friday. "Everywhere I go, people ask how can we reduce the violence in Chicago."
"My answer is we can't save lives unless we have the tools to hold these individuals accountable. We need stronger penalties for people who are picking up a gun, using them to shoot people, and then, get a slap on the wrist," he said.
At the press conference, Johnson blamed the uptick of gun violence in Chicago on gang culture, loose sentences for repeat gun offenders, anti-police rhetoric and a lack of resources in certain neighborhoods.
"This year, we have seen a level of violence in Chicago that has left me both angry and sickened at the loss of life in our communities," Johnson said. "We can point to a number of reasons we've seen the increase in violence. Economic and social services needed to address some of these issues, if people can't see a better life, they can't pursue a better life. We can point to a gang culture that starts for some kids. It's the only life they know. By the time they are 12, their destiny is set and it's highly likely that it's either prison or death."
Johnson saved his strongest words for repeat gun offenders whom he said spend less time in jail than someone does for "stealing a pack of hot dogs."
"Repeat gun offenders are back out on the streets after serving a fraction of their sentences. We're turned in more guns, but we've seen an increase in violence," Johnson said. "The people who commit these crimes see the penalties as a joke. If you don't feel the penalties for committing these crimes, why would you stop committing them?"
Johnson spoke of 21-year-old Jeremy Terry, who was arrested for firing a gun at a district commander early Friday morning. Terry is a repeat gun offender who was sent to a boot camp instead of going to prison for seven years after he was arrested for having an illegal gun in February, Johnson said. He called Terry a "poster child" of the criminal justice system.
"This was an individual who given the minimal amount of a penalty every time he stepped into a courtroom. The fact of the matter is that this happens time and time again on a regular basis," Johnson said. "This was a convicted felon with a previous gun charge."
Johnson also mentioned other recent shootings directed at police officers in Chicago. This week, there's been three instances where police were shot at.
"I will not stand by and let my officers be put in a position where people think they can attack cops for simply doing their job," Johnson said. "I'm asking everyone for help. How many more lives do we have to lose or put at risk before we say enough is enough?"
Some community leaders believe stricter gun laws are only a temporary solution for what ails people affected by gun violence.
"It’s giving the public the false impression that we can arrest, prosecute or imprison our way out of the problem," said Sharone Mitchell Jr., program director of the Illinois Justice Project.
Mitchell believes gun violence and the current state of the criminal justice system goes hand in hand.
"Penalties for gun possession have increased six times since 2000, and as a result, we have triple the number of people in prison on gun offenses now than we did in 2000," Mitchell said. "Illinois has tougher penalties on gun possession than all six states that touch it. Despite this, we still have a serious gun violence problem."
"Just like the 'War on Drugs' didn’t solve the country’s drug problem, increasing sentencing won’t solve gun violence," Mitchell told DNAinfo.
"Why are guns so prevalent in neighborhoods with no gun stores and no gun factories? And why is the clearance rate for murder so far behind our big city counterparts? We have to answer these questions if we want to address the gun violence problems seriously," Mitchell said. "We need holistic solutions."
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