A message from Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss:
Yesterday, a tragedy occurred in Highland Park. A gunman fired repeatedly into the Independence Day parade, taking six lives and wounding dozens.
The suspected shooter was taken into custody in the early evening, more than eight frightening hours after the shooting. Given that situation, we quickly decided to cancel both our 4th of July Parade and the evening concert and fireworks.
There really aren’t words for this moment to express our condolences to those who lost loved ones or were otherwise harmed yesterday morning, to communicate our anger at the gruesome reality of gun violence in America in 2022, or to articulate how frightening it is for a town that treasures its communal public gatherings like 4th of July parades to grapple with the question of when we can ever be truly safe.
It feels as though our society is coming apart.
Let’s start with the obvious: the ready availability and incomprehensible number of guns on our streets is a crime against public safety. Almost no other country has gun laws like ours, and no other country has a problem akin to ours. It’s not a coincidence, and anyone who continues pretending to believe otherwise has blood on their hands.
Next: we don’t yet have much information about the motive behind yesterday’s crime, but there are at least some indications that it may be in part political or ideological. Political violence is playing an alarming role in America today, ranging from the enormously high-profile events of January 6, 2021, to the little-publicized threats that public officials endure on a far-too-regular basis. I hope it goes without saying that democracy is incompatible with the use of violence to resolve political disputes.
We cannot leave any room in this country for politics of violence, and we cannot structure our public discourse in such a way as to orient ourselves toward maximum conflict.
Finally: we are living in a time of intense anger and polarization, when disagreements escalate quickly and frequently. Obviously heated arguments are a far cry from yesterday’s nightmare, but I do think there’s a connection between our society’s widespread and growing difficulty with constructive disagreement and these extreme acts of violence.
Let’s also be clear-eyed about what’s different about these times and what isn’t. White supremacy sure isn’t a new phenomenon in this country, and political violence isn’t either. But today, white supremacists have digital tools they can use to target and radicalize young white men, who then get messages from mainstream sources that they interpret as encouragement, and furthermore have no trouble getting their hands on military-style weapons. Given that, the situation we find ourselves in should be no surprise.
It’s obvious that we need dramatic change in all of these areas. The gun issue, while politically challenging, is substantively relatively straightforward. We know that policy changes can make a difference, and we need to demand that they happen quickly, and without being watered down to the point of ineffectiveness. And while municipalities and states must use every tool at our disposal, municipal and state borders are porous, so we absolutely need federal action as well.
The other problems we need to take on are more complicated but we have no choice but to try. We cannot leave any room in this country for politics of violence, and we cannot structure our public discourse in such a way as to orient ourselves toward maximum conflict. Democracy is quite literally a tool for non-violent collective decision-making, and when we can’t count on that happening, everything else in society begins to break down.
Let me end on this same subject, but on a positive note. During yesterday’s tragedy, many people and institutions stepped up, pitched in, and demonstrated just the kind of commitment to collective effort that we need. First responders from across the north suburbs and Chicago put aside their already-enormous holiday workload to help out and ultimately apprehend the suspected shooter. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.
The Evanston 4th of July Association, a group of dedicated volunteers, worked for months and months to plan yesterday’s festivities, and then when the news came in from Highland Park, turned on a dime. Thanks to them for their dedication and hard work. Finally, I know that after two years of pandemic-induced parade cancellations, our whole community was excited about yesterday’s planned celebrations. When circumstances changed, people quickly and generously cooperated with law enforcement and focused on supporting one another and staying safe. Thanks to all for coming together in such a painful and difficult moment.
We have a lot of progress to make but I am confident that we have the people, the heart, and the values to get it done. Let’s get to work.
Mayor, City of Evanston