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Chicago survivors, advocates say gun violence has been a public health crisis for a long time

Street pastor, first responders agree gun violence is public health crisis
Street pastor, first responders agree gun violence is public health crisis 02:29

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The  U.S. surgeon general on Tuesday declared gun violence a public health crisis Tuesday, and survivors in Chicago wonder what took so long.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called gun violence a public health crisis because more than 48,000 died from guns in 2022.

The survivors said gun violence has always been a public health crisis in the communities where they live and work—and they have been in crisis mode for years. But they hope national recognition will actually make a difference.

Michael Tidmore showed a scar that remains from when he was shot.

"It went in here, and it landed inches from my heart," Tidmore said.

Tidmore was struck by a stray bullet in Englewood when he was 30 years old.  

"It felt like a half brick was thrown into my body, and it had heavy weight," Tidmore said.

Now in his 60s, and a gun violence prevention worker, Tidmore says the pain has never left.

"It's always something that you never forget, like that your body never really heals," Tidmore said.

Tidmore said his community was already in emergency mode when the U.S. surgeon general declared gun violence a public health crisis.

"It should have been done definitely a long time ago. It's definitely a crisis," said Tidmore, "and I personally—based on the work that I do around public safety—I can see how it's devastating to this community."

Chicago survivors say gun violence has been a crisis for many years 02:29

West Pullman mom Sherry Nolen's 28-year-old son, Akaeem, didn't survive his brush with a shooter in Jackson, Mississippi, in July 2021.

"Akaeem was shot anywhere from three times to eight times. Because the case is still open, I will not know how many times he was hit," Nolen said. "Just everything flows through your body. It's a sick feeling."

Nolen knows the ripple effect of trauma in her family and across her community.

"As long as I have life in my body, his memory will live on," Nolen said.

Also hoping the declaration will have an impact is Street Pastor Donovan Price, who is often the first on crime scenes. He is well aware of how severe the gun violence crisis is.

"I once worked with a family for six years, until almost every member of that family had been killed by gun violence," he said.

Price helps families hours and years after the trauma.

"Trauma is at all-time high, and so it becomes obvious after a while that what's going on needs to be dealt with at a higher level," he said.

The crisis is impacting those who treat the patients of the violence too—the first responders.

"You are correct, it does take a toll on us," said Chris Dellinger, president of the Emergency Nurses Association. She represents some 50,000 nurses worldwide.

Dellinger considers the U.S. surgeon general's public health crisis declaration a needed step to get change.

"As the voice obviously for emergency nurses, it's something that we do want to get our message out and get it clearly so we can get legislators' attention—and what we're trying to do from the true injury prevention perspective," Dellinger said. "So I think it's important that he used his voice to speak up for that."

Gun violence in Chicago has been a public health crisis for a long time, survivors say 02:30

Illinois already declared a public health crisis over gun violence

Illinois declared gun violence a public health crisis nearly four years ago. The state also pledged $250 million investment for hardest hit communities.

Grants go directly to community-based groups focusing on violence prevention services, including street-based interrupters and emotional or trauma-related therapy, high-risk youth intervention programs, youth development programs such as after-school and summer programming, and trauma recovery services for young people.

Going back historically, the record year for homicides in Illinois was 1974, when there were 970. But only 669 of those were gun-related—which does not set a record.

The record for gun-related homicides in Chicago was set far more recently, just three years ago in 2021, when there were 750 out of a total of 804 homicides for the year.

There have been at least 300 gun-related homicides every year since 1968.

Just this past weekend alone, Chicago Police responded to 25 shooting incidents between Friday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at midnight. These incidents left 31 people wounded.    

The announcement by the surgeon general on Tuesday left Nolen hopeful, but with questions.

"We already knew it was a public health issue," she said. "But now, with the surgeon general saying that, I'm hoping that now, there will be some changes made, you know, in our judicial system."

Tidmore's tone was likewise hopeful.

"I'm optimistic. I'm optimistic," he said. "You know, that could be a catalyst for everyone to see now; that it's an awareness."

The question does arise—why make a public health crisis declaration for this issue now? While might say it seems all like politics for it to happen during an election year, Pastor Price said, "An election year is as good as any year."

The surgeon general called for more research on gun violence in connection to the health system. He goes so far as to call for gun safety at doctor's visits.

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