Politicians and community leaders held an emergency meeting Sat., May 2, to discuss Austin's violence. (T.J. Kremer/AustinTalks)

Emergency town hall draws big crowd

Law enforcement officials, politicians, residents gathered to discuss anti-violence solutions

By T.J. KREMER III

AustinTalks

Summer is coming – and that means barbequing, block parties and more shootings.

With gun violence on the minds of so many West Side residents, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st District) held a “state of emergency” town hall meeting Saturday at Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church of Austin, 854 N. Central Ave.

Boykin, along with U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago), fellow Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (7th District) and Ald.elect Chris Taliaferro (29th),  held a press conference outside of Christ Tabernacle before Saturday’s town hall meeting.

“The blood of victims of gun violence is flowing through the streets of our poorest and most vulnerable neighborhoods of color,” Boykin said. “It is winding its way past the City Council chambers and finding its way to the mayor’s office. It’s flowing across the hall to the Cook County Board and across to the governor’s office.”

Boykin and his fellow government officials spoke surrounded by more than a dozen people who’ve been affected by gun violence.

From Jan.1 through April 30, there were 556 shootings reported in Chicago, up from 452 from the same time period last year, according to data collected by the Chicago Police Department and posted on the Sun-Times website.

Data collected by the Chicago Tribune shows there have been 52 shooting victims so far this year in Austin alone; Austin has the most killings – seven – of the city’s 77 community areas, according to the Sun-Times.

About 100 West Side residents packed the inside of the church for the two-and-a-half-hour-long town hall meeting following the press conference, and many shared their frustrations with the surging violence seen in many West and South side neighborhoods.

Dwayne Betts, commander of the Chicago Police Department’s 15th district — which runs between Division Street to Roosevelt Road, and from Cicero to Austin Boulevard — tried to reassure the crowd, telling them, “we’re moving in the right direction.”

“Our crime in the 15th District has dropped,” Betts said. “We’ve (gotten) 90 percent more guns off the street then we did from this time last year.”

Betts said CPD has taken 44 guns this year out of the hands of those who should not have had them, up from 23 from the same time last year.

But the biggest obstacle facing CPD doesn’t come from gangs, Boykin said.

“The biggest threat is losing public trust,” he said.

That lack of public distrust was on full display at times during Saturday’s meeting.

Phyllis Duncan, founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons, said she came to the town hall so elected officials would know they are being “put on notice.”

“I come here today asking why our communities are the only communities where we see loitering, where we see men and women all over the streets, in front of liquor stores,” Duncan said.

Taliaferro said he hopes people of the 29th Ward will hold him accountable; the police sergeant will be sworn in as 29th Ward alderman May 18.

“I really take what you’re saying to heart,” Taliaferro told Duncan. “And that’s why I ran for alderman. I ran for alderman to bring change to our community, and I want you to hold me responsible, because I am very serious about bringing change to our community.”

Deputy Chief Eric Washington said police officers do enforce the city’s curfew ordinance for juveniles, but trying to remove adults from public spaces is trickier.

“We have to follow the legal standard,” Washington said. “We can stop and investigate someone just standing there, and (if) we have no other reason to make an arrest, can we lawfully tell them to leave and get off the sidewalk? No, we cannot.”

Boykin has suggested deputies from the Cook County Sheriff’s office be brought in to help the CPD with patrolling the West Side.

Boykin said Betts informed him deputies were now patrolling some areas of Austin.

However, Betts could not confirm how many deputies are active in the community, nor did would he say what the exact nature of their duties entail.

“I don’t know how many Cook County Sherrif’s (are there),” Betts said. “I just know they had cars out there and they were backing up the police officers and they were making enforcement actions. They were doing a great job.”

Boykin also could not confirm any other information, including how many additional deputies would be sent into the community and when residents could expect to see them patrolling more of the neighborhoods.

For more information on future meetings and planned events, contact Boykin’s office at (312) 603-9532.

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