Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart speaks Thursday evening at the beginning of town hall in North Chicago where community members spoke about the impact of gun violence and steps to address it. | Photo: Willie Gillespie (@wgweather)

Police chiefs, county officials and the state’s attorney held a town hall meeting to hear from passionate community members regarding gun violence in Lake County last week.

The meeting, which was held Thursday evening at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago, was aimed at discussing countywide and community-based solutions.

“We have to have an urgency addressing this problem,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said, adding that violent crime has been his top priority since taking office.

Sitting alongside Rinehart was George Moore Jr., the founder of Legacy Reentry Foundation, and Anthony McIntyre, the founder of The Antmound Foundation.

McIntyre said there has been an “extreme uptick” in violence in the northeastern Lake County area and the root causes need to be addressed.

Clyde McLemore, the founder of the Black Lives Matter Lake County chapter, said gun violence is daily for black and brown communities.

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McLemore said the area empathizes with Highland Park following the mass shooting but he questioned how Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion can get the same resources and support that Highland Park received.

“Our children, our youth, are seeing trauma every day — every day. And we can’t get one [crisis counselor],” McLemore said.

Waukegan resident Ray Edwards speaks Thursday evening at a town hall in North Chicago about the impact of gun violence in northeast Lake County. | Photo: Willie Gillespie (@wgweather)

Ray Edwards, a Waukegan resident, made a passionate plea, yelling during much of it, about how action needs to be taken to address violence in the community.

Edwards said that fixing violence in the community starts with the school systems. “The violence starts at the schools and then rolls into the community.”

“This is your community. How you feel and what you feel matter. It’s time for ya’ll to start speaking,” Edwards said.

Waukegan Police Chief Keith Zupec, North Chicago Police Chief Lazaro Perez and Zion Police Chief Eric Barden also attended the meeting.

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According to data from the Waukegan Police Department, the number of shots fired calls more than doubled from 2017 to 2022.

For the period of January 1 to July 26, 2017, 176 reports of shots fired were recorded in Waukegan. For the period of January 1, 2022, to July 26, 2022, 404 reports of shots fired were recorded in Waukegan.

Zion Police Chief Eric Barden, Waukegan Police Chief Keith Zupec and North Chicago Police Chief Lazaro Perez attend a town hall meeting Thursday in North Chicago. | Photo: Photo: Willie Gillespie (@wgweather)

Homicides in Waukegan have remained steady in recent years, while the number of people shot has seen an increase.

Police in Waukegan seized 168 firearms in the first half of 2022 compared to 68 firearms in the first half of 2017.

In June, Rinehart announced a new initiative that aims to reduce gun violence in the Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion areas by hiring “violence interrupters” that will provide services to the three Lake County communities.

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Rinehart previously said that gun violence is “becoming a tool to settle social media disputes or to retaliate for past shootings.”

The Lake County Board used funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the state through budget allocation to invest $1.06 million in the program.

The money will be used to help maintain a team of at least 10 “violence interrupters” in Lake County to help reduce street violence in northeast Lake County.

Violence interrupters are street-level staff that works with high-risk individuals to resolve conflict and reduce gun violence, and they will “work closely with law enforcement to focus on hotspots, to mediate disputes and to prevent retaliation,” Rinehart said.