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Lawmaker: Solve Chicago’s violence with sentencing

Ivan Moreno
Associated Press

Springfield, Ill. — The refrain is heard almost as often as the fatal gunshots: The way to reduce Chicago’s gun violence is tougher prison sentences for repeat gun offenders, keeping them off the streets and decreasing the city’s mounting death toll.

That idea, pushed by the mayor, police superintendent and others, shifts pressure from patrol officers of the city’s West and South sides to the Capitol, where legislators will consider how to balance law and order with finding alternatives to imprisoning young blacks and other minorities.

In that building, in the same Senate seat where Barack Obama launched his political career and focused on racial profiling issues, Democrat Kwame Raoul plans to propose legislation next month to impose longer sentences for defendants who previously committed a gun-related crime.

It’s a measure that has Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson’s backing, especially with the city topping 700 homicides a year after seeing 468. The state’s past attempts to strengthen such penalties have been turned down, met by opponents who worry it’d further incarceration rates in the predominantly black neighborhoods hardest hit by violence and doesn’t address the root cause of readily available illegal guns. The opponents have called for more comprehensive solutions that go beyond law enforcement.

Raoul and the legislative black caucus have said they don’t want to increase mandatory minimums, which have drawn criticism for putting nonviolent drug offenders behind bars for decades — something even Obama is trying to undo in his final days through commutations and other actions.

Instead, Raoul says, he’ll propose directing judges to use the higher end of the sentencing scale when someone has a prior gun-related conviction. Judges would keep their discretion in sentencing, but Raoul’s bill may require them to explain their rationale.

As is, someone with a previous felony weapons conviction faces 3 to 14 years; Raoul’s measure might have judges consider more than 10 years. Currently, someone with a 3-year sentence can be freed after serving half their term with good behavior.

The issue of repeat offenders came under scrutiny in August when 32-year-old Nykea Aldridge, cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade, was gunned down while pushing her baby in a stroller. She wasn’t the intended target.

The men charged were two brothers who’d been released on parole — one two weeks before the shooting, the other in February. Despite a combined 26-year prison sentence for five separate felony convictions, they served only 11 between the two of them, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said.

“They’re not afraid of the laws, they’re not deterred by the laws,” said Alvarez.