Eleven-year-old Antoine Byndum wants to play outside without fear of gun shots. That’s why he and more than 200 other youth took to the streets of Austin Tuesday during a peace march against crime.
“I think it is too much violence,” said Byndum, a member of Northwest Austin Council’s youth program. “Every day you cannot walk outside your door (without fearing) you will get shot or somebody you know will get shot.”
The Tuesday evening march on Madison Street was among many citywide activities in Chicago’s 25 police districts. The effort was part of the 25th annual National Night Out campaign against violence. Chicago joined other cities in hosting community events and activities.
Since last September, there have been more than 20 homicides in Austin, according to the march organizers. Just the passed Sunday, two more people were shot dead. Steven Nelson, 16, of south suburban Riverdale, and James Brandon, 27, of Melrose Park were both shot multiple times in a gangway near Lotus and Washington. Police have made no arrests in the shootings.
Byndum wants the violence to end, and he said participating in the peace march is one way to get that message out. The Austin Safety Net Works, a coalition of seven community groups, organized Tuesday’s march. The mile trek snaked down Madison Street before ending at the 15th District Police station parking lot, 5701 W. Madison, for a rally featuring raffles and entertainment.
Violence is nothing new to Austin youth, said Father Maurizio Binaghi, executive director of Peace Corner, a youth drop-in center. A member of the Austin Safety Net Works, Binaghi acknowledged his group has lost members to violence.
“Unfortunately, they are getting used to the violence, and we don’t want that,” said Binaghi, who founded the center eight years ago. “It cannot become a way of life. We want to try to change things by changing one kid at a time.”
Marquin Gooden is one of those kids. The 22-year-old cycled in and out of the juvenile justice system for selling drugs before fate intervened. Father Binaghi persuaded him to give up the streets. Gooden, who dropped out of school, got his GED through Peace Corner and now works for them as a program director. He uses his life as a teaching tool for others. “The streets ain’t the way,” said Gooden, who lost two cousins-both at the age 22-to gun violence.” It’s a shame that most black men don’t make it pass 22.”
Jarvez Hodges was on a similar path. A two-year stint in an adult corrections facility for armed robbery scared him straight. But he also owes his second chance to New Birth Christian Center, which he said kept him off the streets. Now Hodges encourages youth to take advantage of neighborhood youth programs. He said too many youth are “killed over stupid stuff like gangbanging and drugs.”
“If there is anything you can do to occupy your time to keep you off the streets-do it,” said the 18-year-old, who plans to attend Northern Illinois University this fall. “It will keep you away from negativity.”
Reducing crime and violence is a joint effort, added Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th), which National Night Out recognizes.
“We have to work together to stop the crime in our community,” he said. “The police can only do so much. The community can only do so much. Pastors [and] politicians can only do so much. But together we can do an awful lot.”
Walter Green, 15th District police commander, agreed, adding that residents shouldn’t see the police as separate from them.
“The police department is part of the community, so we are just out here with our neighbors,” he said. “It is important for all of us to be out here together to make one big united stand against crime and disorder in our neighborhoods.”