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Some Illinois Crime Victims (Still) Cast as Criminals

PHOTO: Jeremy Murphy of Chicago's South Side says he's had little support from the community as he tries to recover after being shot on two occasions. Photo credit: Carla Murphy/Colorlines.com
PHOTO: Jeremy Murphy of Chicago's South Side says he's had little support from the community as he tries to recover after being shot on two occasions. Photo credit: Carla Murphy/Colorlines.com
August 25, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A national debate over racial injustice is heating up following the fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and Chicago's violent summer. Amid all the finger pointing, there are forgotten victims, left alone as they face the financial, physical and emotional toll of violent crime.

In a yearlong Colorlines.com investigation in Chicago, reporter Carla Murphy found resources to support crime victims are scarce. She says one victimized population getting the short end of the stick largely due to false perceptions.

"Young black men in particular, say 17 to 30, they're very much cast first as criminals and whatever bad thing happens to them after," Murphy says. "It's understood as they might deserve it or they were doing something wrong."

There are both national and state compensation programs to support crime victims. In Illinois, those who decide who gets victim compensation rely heavily on police reports. When the crime involves young men of color, Murphy says it's often labeled as "gang-related." Factual or not, she says it means the victim is not deemed innocent and becomes ineligible for support.

Jeremy Berry, 22, of Chicago's South Side, is homeless and was shot twice in 15 months, in incidents he did not instigate. Murphy says without any family or financial support to help him recover, he was left to his own devices.

"After the second shooting, he got a gun and the police picked him up for that," Murphy says. "He actually just got out of jail this March. So he now has a felony record and he's unemployed. I asked him if he's typical of men in his neighborhood and he said yes, pretty much his life, the fears he has."

Murphy says the media can play a role in changing public perceptions about violent crime in communities of color.

"Focusing on highlighting the lives that have been hurt and the communities that are being broken by this violence," says Murphy. "Typically, if you go to high-crime communities the sense is the media shows up after the violent act and they just disappear. They're not around after to help with the rebuilding."

Murphy says community members she spoke with agreed these young men need more help. In part two tomorrow, details on how the community can help end the cycle of violence.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL