Holding a poster with pictures of recently slain African Americans, including Michael Brown and Eric Garner, West Side teens hosted a press conference Dec. 5 to voice their concerns over the recent violence seen nationwide and in Austin.
About a dozen students at Banner Academy, 819 N. Leamington, spoke out against the rash of gun violence and police mistreatment they said affects their lives on a daily basis.
“I am proud to be an African American, not so proud yet to be an American,” said senior Malik Coleman, 18, president of Banner’s Student Council.
The high schoolers asked their peers to “put the guns down” and that more resources be put into creating jobs in the community as a way to get people off the street. The threat of violence has become so bad that some young people have dreams in which they are killed in the streets while trying to provide a future for themselves, said senior Letara Jones, 17, vice president of the Student Council.
“I talk to them to get them to have a positive mindset and not do the things other people do, as in selling drugs and other negative things,” Letara said of her peers.
Banner students organized the press conference after they heard the news of 17-year-old Austin resident Demond Avant’s death. He was fatally shot the night of Wednesday Dec. 3 while standing on the sidewalk in the 600 block of North Mayfield Avenue.
Two men have been charged in Demond’s death, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th) was on hand to offer support and solutions to the young people. Ford praised the students for having the courage and drive to stand up and challenge each other to help create a better environment for themselves.
The community, he added, must also begin to have better relationships with law enforcement for those hopes to be realized. To that end, Ford said it’s likely the General Assembly will draft legislation mandating sensitivity training for police officers as one of its highest priorities in the upcoming session.
“It’s tough for policemen to come into a neighborhood; they really don’t understand the culture, and they have to police,” Ford said. “That’s a problem. It’s not their fault they’re policing in an area where they don’t have an understanding of the culture.”
The students said they were tired of the negative image of violence often portrayed about the city’s West Side. Others well beyond Chicago refer to the city by the unflattering nickname “Chi-raq,” Coleman said.
But the students stressed that they don’t see themselves in that light.
“I think Chicago is for winners, and everyone standing here are winners,” said senior Asante Parker, 17. “We believe in something, and we stand for something. Everybody isn’t so bad. I just want us to stop the violence.”