In the parking lot of the 15th District police station, 5701 W. Madison, dozens of West Side residents ignored the 90-plus-degree heat to convene for the city’s 23rd Annual National Night Out anti-crime celebration.
As multi-colored balloons swayed from the gates surrounding the station, and clouds began to form above barbecue grills, many of the participants enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers prepared by police officers and music encompassing both Hip-Hop and old-school R&B. National Night Out community activities took place at all 25 police districts in the city Tuesday evening. Other West Side events took place at the 25th (North Austin) 11th (Harrison) and 10th (Ogden) districts.
This was his second year of involvement with the event at Austin’s 15th District, said Commander Alfonza Wysinger, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary at the station. The Austin native was popular with many patrons, who requested having pictures taken with him at the event.
“I arrived a month before we held the event last year and then it was at Levin Park,” said Wysinger, which took place while the new Madison station was still under construction.
“Because of the heat wave, we decided to cancel the parade and hold it at the station,” he said of this year’s event. “That way, people have more access to facilities and medical treatment if it is required.”
Speaking of his first year on the job, Wysinger said he is seeing “the fruits of his labor” and approaches his job with a no-nonsense style that has been supported by those in the community.
However, with recent incidents such as the Rev. James Meeks’ harassment case against the police involving a traffic stop last year, Wysinger acknowledged there is still a need for the police to build trust within the community.
“Absolutely, I understand their concerns because I grew up in Austin and have family and friends here,” said Wysinger. “There was an incident recently involving a few officers on the force and some young men who were playing ball in a play lot. The young men claimed to have received unfair treatment by the officers, and we all had to sit down to iron out the dispute. I must say, it was resolved amicably and we ended up playing with them here at the station.”
The 15th District hosts Hip-Hop Tuesday’s, a community event held every Tuesday of the summer until mid August-15th District police officers played community youth in a one-day basketball tournament at the station on a recent Tuesday.
“Ultimately, though, it comes back to communication and working together within our own community to make it as safe as it can be,” Wysinger added.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward covers part of Austin, arrived after attending another National Night Out event at the 25th District.
Mitts spoke to the crowd from the stage about the importance of a united community.
“When we come together, we can socialize, we can become familiar with one another, we can work to solve problems,” said Mitts. “We have had our ups-and-downs within the community, but we need to do just what we are doing here. Meet, greet and learn more about the people of our town.”
15th District CAPS Lt. Cornelia Lott, who will also be celebrating her own one-year anniversary next month, agreed with Mitts, adding that even though the station will conclude the Tuesday summer events soon, they are always holding meetings and events throughout the rest of the year for residents looking to get involved.
“[The night out event] is our last summer Tuesday event before the kids go back to school, so we are very happy that so many have come out,” said Lott. “We wanted a motorcade and parade, but I think having it at the station was a great idea.”
Backed by the soundtrack from the stage, the South Shore Drill Team performed. Wearing an array of colorful outfits and twirling wooden replica rifles between their legs and through the air, and catching them with precision timing, the 30-member group of young men performed to oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
The event also included raffles throughout the evening with T-shirts given away to the lucky winners.
Also performing at the event was Madison Buchanan, who happens to be the niece of Commander Wysinger. Possessing runway model looks and a strong voice, the slim 5-foot-7 singer belted out several songs. Buchanan also performed at the first Hip-Hop Tuesday event in June. Her talents drew the attention of Taste of Chicago organizers, where she performed on June 30.