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'Killing Has To Stop' In Chicago, Says Senate Minority Whip

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are talking about violence in Chicago this hour, and now we turn to Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois. He is a Democrat. He serves as Senate Minority Whip. He served in the Senate for some 20 years and was in the House before that. And as local leaders continue to try to address violence in the city, Senator Durbin has been involved with those efforts. When we reached him on Friday, I started with the big question we've been posing this hour - why Chicago?

RICHARD DURBIN: You know, I can't tell you why. You're looking for an easy explanation. I don't think there is one. I say to my colleagues in the Senate, you think this is about gangs - well, somewhat. Is it about drugs? Somewhat. But it's also about Facebook. People are dissing folks on Facebook and getting killed for it. It's about a fight over tennis shoes where a congressman's grandson is killed in his home. I mean, it's nonsensical. It's ridiculous. And it's just heartbreaking.

MARTIN: Presumably, you thought about this over some time and you also have colleagues from, you know, all over the country. And when you see that Chicago had more murders than Los Angeles and New York combined, does it make you think that there's something unique about the situation in Chicago that somehow doesn't exist somewhere else?

DURBIN: There are two measurable things - first, the number of guns. Our city of Chicago is awash in guns. They come in from every direction, from the suburbs, from Northern Indiana gun shows, from Mississippi for goodness sakes. They make it into the city. They're confiscated in these gun crimes at a rate of about one an hour every day, every week, every month. The second thing that we know for sure is the level of poverty and unemployment in our African-American neighborhoods is among the worst in the nation. You put those two volatile things together and you end up with folks with guns and no purpose in life and killing people for no reasonable purpose at all.

MARTIN: President-elect Donald Trump has said in tweets that Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel should ask for federal help to bring down the rate of violence. Do you agree with that? What would that look like?

DURBIN: Well, I could tell you what it'd look like. The mayor suggested an increase in the police department, and we need some federal funds to help us do that. We need resources and training and equipment. And you could help us do it. I hope he will.

MARTIN: On the other hand, there's a federal investigation going on right now into the practices of the Chicago Police Department. And their fraught relationship with minority communities is something that has become very well-known around the country. What would it look like to fix that relationship?

DURBIN: I joined in the formal request for the Department of Justice to do a civil rights investigation after the Laquan McDonald case, which has been widely publicized. I was with the attorney general of the state and the mayor of the city asking for it. And I'm sure there're going to be recommendations and there that'll be painful but necessary. I hope that that's reported before President Obama leaves office so we can move on it as quickly as possible.

But that is one of the real problems here is the breakdown in confidence in the minority communities when it comes to our police departments. Folks are not reporting crimes. They're not really cooperating in a way that communities have to cooperate for the police to be most effective. And there have been some very notorious headline incidents of police abuse and excess. You put those together and things are in a pretty sorry state at this moment.

MARTIN: Senator, I just have to ask your state of mind here. You've been in public life for a long time. You've been thinking about this for a long time. How are you?

DURBIN: Troubled by it. Very troubled. We were watching that "60 Minutes" show and my wife said, somebody has to do something. And I realized, I am somebody. I'm the senator from the state of Illinois. You know, I'm doing my best to understand what I can do from the federal level. But yes, I care, and a lot of people care. And this killing has to stop.

MARTIN: That's Senator Dick Durbin. He's Senate Minority Whip. He represents Illinois. Senator, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DURBIN: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.