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Young men who abuse alcohol are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of gun violence, according to a presentation sponsored by Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Council (ESAPC). The program, held on Sept. 1 at the Morton Civic Center, featured findings from Roseanna Ander and Harold Pollack. Ms. Ander is the founding executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab and the senior director of UChicago Urban Labs; Dr. Pollack is a professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration and serves as co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The two discussed information on gun violence they gathered from Chicago.

“One-third of young homicide victims had high blood alcohol levels at death,” said Ms. Ander. Alcohol is also a “striking risk factor” among detained juvenile offenders, Ms. Anders showed in a graph, with alcohol misuse being a more common characteristic among detained juveniles than being a gang member or a drug dealer.

 “Guns drive lethal violence,” said Ms. Ander. She showed a chart of homicide rates in London, New York City, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles and Chicago, where non-gun homicides are relatively similar, ranging from under 2% to 4%. When homicides committed with guns are added, Chicago’s rate jumps from about 3% to 16%, outpacing the rate of all of the other cities. “Without guns, we would look more like London,” Ms. Ander said, pointing to London’s homicide rate which, even with guns, is less than 2%.

Their research also showed that 73% of homicides in Chicago are said to be attributed to an “altercation” or a fight. The perpetrator makes a decision to use a gun “in the heat of the moment” said Ms. Ander. She said that shows the need to help young males develop interpersonal skills to keep them from becoming a victim or perpetrator.

Gun Deaths in Evanston
Evanston Deputy Police Chief Jay Parrott, who attended the ESAPC presentation, told the RoundTable homicides in Evanston are mainly gang-related. Young people are impulsive, he said and are “not always thinking through their actions and don’t always know how to control their emotions.” Impulsive behavior, he said, is thus “a legitimate concern.” Deputy Chief Parrott also said that most homicide victims in Evanston are male and are of color. He also said that crime has declined in Evanston over the years. He added that those looking at youth violence should not consider only homicides; non-fatal shootings are also an important measure.

Kevin Brown, the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division Manager, told the RoundTable that substance abuse and violence in Evanston have the “same correlation” as nationally.

Mr. Brown said it may be true that Evanston has “smaller groups that have access to weapons [than do other cities].” He added that it would be quite a “disservice” to say gun violence is the only type of violence affecting young people. Mental and verbal abuse, bullying, and peer pressure are also forms of violence and can have negative consequences on youth, he said.

What Evanston Is Doing
Deputy Chief Parrott said the City has “changed its approach” to dealing with violence over the last few years, with an ongoing gun buy-back program that offers $100 to anyone who turns in a firearm; increased visibility with foot and bicycle patrols; and a more “aggressive stand” against illegal guns, particularly with convicted felons, who are more likely to use a gun.

Mr. Brown said his division is taking a “comprehensive approach to supporting the City’s young people,” with two department managers and six outreach workers to support youth considered “at risk.” The outreach workers are “well known in the streets” and residents “come to them with needs,” said Mr. Brown.

The Youth and Young Adult Division helps people find jobs, healthcare, housing, mental health and other services. They engage in “violence interruption,” in which outreach workers identify individuals “on the verge of violence and talk them down from negative behaviors,” Mr. Brown said. With the Moran Center, the Division has helped more than 300 teens and adults obtain a Certificate of Rehabilitation or have their records sealed or expunged.

Alternative recreation programming like poetry slams and open mic events provide kids positive activities, Mr. Brown said, adding the Division works to make “a real impact on keeping people safe and engaged, away from activities where they could hurt themselves.I’m impressed daily by the commitment of the City, trying to help people grow and develop and have a positive life.”

 Noting that Evanston has put nearly $1 million into helping at-risk youth, Mr. Brown said, “Not a lot of cities have the structure for these kinds of supports.”  

ESAPC Coordinator Karen Finstad told the RoundTable, “Substance abuse is the leading preventable cause of violence.” She added, “Substance abuse is completely preventable if the community works together to address this issue.”

One Possible Solution: Raise Alcohol Taxes

Dr. Harold Pollack of the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration suggested that one way to reduce violence may be to increase alcohol taxes. A very small increase in Illinois alcohol taxes – less than 4 cents on spirits – would raise roughly $100,000 per year.Dr. Pollack also said the 1991 increase in federal excise tax saved an estimated 7,000 lives in its first year, referencing Working Paper No. 17709 of National Bureau of Economic Resesrch: “The Virtuous Tax: Lifesaving and Crime-Prevention Effects of the 1991 Federal Alcohol-Tax Increase,” by Philip J. Cook and Christine Piette Durrance.   A 1% increase in the beer tax is predicted to decrease the probability of assault by 0.45 percent; a 1% decrease in the number of outlets that sell alcohol is predicted to decrease the probability of rape by 1.75%, said Dr. Pollack. ESAPC Coordinator Karen Finstad told the RoundTable, “The National Institutes of Health reports that higher taxes on alcohol are associated with less drinking among high school students, fewer traffic fatalities, higher graduation rates, and less violence among youth.” Responding to Dr. Pollack’s statement about increasing alcohol taxes to reduce violence, one resident suggested that alcohol tax revenue should be put toward prevention efforts.”