CHICAGO – South Side, West Side, guns around the town…
OK, it’s nothing to sing about. Gun violence is real. The gang activity behind it has triggered an epidemic of shootings and homicides in Chicago in 2012. With two months to spare, more people had been killed in Chicago this year than in all of 2011 (435).
But a glimmer of good news: The murder rate slowed in October. In fact, the Associated Press reported, there were fewer murders last month than in all but one October since 1982.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel praised police and an emphasis on gang-busting. Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois, thinks basketball might have had a little to do with it, too.
Hardiman was one of the city activists involved with the Peace Tournament Sept. 22 at St. Sabina Church in the Auburn-Gresham community on Chicago’s South Side. Co-hosted by NBA legend Isiah Thomas and Father Michael Pfleger, the day-long event brought together rival gang members from the city’s meanest streets for dialogue and hoops.
The gym was packed, with an unbilled appearance by Bulls star Derrick Rose. Players and coaches took part in discussions about violence and grievances before and after the games, mingling with NBA players such as Quentin Richardson, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Then they were sent back to their neighborhoods, urged to share a message of peace.
As Thomas said that day: “By getting them to come together and play a sport, they might come to know each other. We believe it’s hard to kill someone if you get to know him.”
Follow-through always was going to be part of the program, and Hardiman believes the Peace Tournament has produced results. “Seven of those fellows got jobs as a result of that day,” Hardiman said Thursday, citing the community and business leaders who supported the event. “Shootings have been reduced, too.”
Even if that’s just an elusive coincidence, it’s one worth pursuing. Thomas will be back for a second event, this time on the West Side close to where the former Detroit Piston and Naismith Hall of Famer grew up. The Basketball Tournament for Peace will be held Saturday, Nov. 17, at Christ the King Jesuit School at 5088 W. Jackson.