ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker visited a Rockford community center on Tuesday to talk about violence prevention programs.
Pritzker declared gun violence a public health crisis earlier this month, and vowed to help the state’s hardest hit communities. Kevin Puckett, who said that he lost a family member to gun violence in Rockford, said that it is personal to him. He is both hopeful and eager to see what comes of this, and said he supports the Governor’s mission.
“Considering that I grew up around it, I seen it, you know,” Puckett said. “I wanna help stop it.”
Puckett knows first-hand what violence in Rockford does to a family.
“I have friends who lost children to gun violence, I have a cousin who was crippled by gun violence, and I have an older cousin who passed because of gun violence,” Puckett said.
Rockford is considered one of the state’s most dangerous cities. Violent crime was up 3% between January and October, compared to the same time in 2020. That translates to about 60 more cases.
“From the 90’s it was gun violence, but to now, the millennium, it’s very bad,” Puckett said. “It needs to be controlled.”
Control that could come with help from the state. The governor is pledging $250 million to focus on violent prevention, specifically keeping kids out of crime, as well as developing after school programs and making sure there is trauma recovery services for the youth.
When asked how the money should be used, Puckett said:
“The right way, that’s all I can say. I’m not a politician,” Puckett said. “All I can say is it needs to be used in the right areas and the right way.”
Puckett is hopeful, with both the community and government support, that change will come.
“I think with the communities help and with the parents help, and with the older generation that’s seen it and seen how worse it’s gotten help, I think we can make it happen, I think we can see a change,” Puckett said.
The violence is a cycle that Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara hopes to change.
“We’ve seen what happens when systems and, truthfully, people like me fail them time and time again. That can no longer be the case,” McNamara said. “We will start really focusing on that unmitigated trauma that these youth have been impacted by, and now with the state and City of Rockford really mirroring each others approach, and really addressing the youth at their earliest times.”
Tabatha Endres Cruz, Executive Director of the Northwest Community Center, is excited to see the outcome.
“They’re our future,” Cruz said. “Whether they’re part of the violence, they hear it, they see it, they feel it. So, anything that prevents some of that is great for this community, great for our kids, great for our parents.”
Cruz said helping those kids now will help the community grow, and that Rockford youth could later become Rockford leaders.