I dropped off a friend at her home last Friday evening. She lives around California Avenue and Warren Boulevard. As I drove westbound past Wallace's Catfish Corner before getting to her house, I saw about 100 young people in the alley directly behind Wallace's parking lot. They were milling about in such a large number that I was curious as to what was going on.
So after dropping my friend off, I drove around the corner again just as one solitary police SUV went down the alley where the young people were. The officer turned on his blue lights and drove through the crowd. I watched with concern because the police car was greatly outnumbered by the young people hanging out. The officers' actions could make or break the situation as I could hear some very derogatory comments from those young people who, though not part of the main crowd, had clustered closer to Madison Street. Anger emanated from those young people simply because the police car had shown up. From what I sensed and heard, they didn't see themselves doing anything wrong, and they viewed the police SUV as just out to "F___ with them."
Fortunately for everyone involved, the police SUV made it through the crowd with the windows down and without any negative interaction. I took Lake Street to head home and saw a second huge group of young people milling about off Lake Street just past Homan Avenue. A third large group of young people were just off of Lake on Keeler Avenue, and by the time I got to Laramie and made the right turn to head north, I saw lots of young people hanging out in front of the liquor store.
Of all these scenarios, it's easiest to blame the liquor store for the young people milling about in front of it. But from the time I was a kid, hanging out in front of someplace has been a rite of passage - especially when young people don't have places to go and things to do.
The issue of what our West Side young people are supposed to do for entertainment should be at the forefront of our minds. On a warm summer night, young people hanging out on the corners and milling about on the streets is the perfect recipe for negative behavior. Until we provide them with public places of amusement, they will create their own versions of entertainment on the corners and in the streets.
Where are the skating rinks, arcades, dance and pool halls for our young people to go to learn how to socialize? Those establishments offer job opportunities as well as ways to keep our money right here on the West Side instead of giving it to outsiders who take it back to their home communities to create those same things for their young people.
When we are mistakenly led to believe these establishments are the problem and not the individuals who create the havoc, we are left with a community filled with no place to go. I know many who love block after block of storefront churches, yet we have more crime than any other community.
I have nothing against churches, but the majority of them are closed five days a week with the exception of Sunday service and Wednesday bible study. I'd like to see a rule that if a church exists in a storefront, it must be open seven days a week offering programs to the area. Otherwise, that church should combine with another church and become a bigger entity able to fulfill the requirement. At no point should we accept excuses because "doing the Lord's work" requires a 24-hour-a-day commitment, 52 weeks a year.
P.S.: Governor Quinn quietly signed the African American Employment Act last Tuesday after I lambasted him on both the Emilie and Friends show, broadcast on WVON 1690-AM, and the Garfield Major show on 1450-AM. This Sunday from 10 until midnight, we'll be talking about Chicago Public Schools on Garfield's show. Tune in.