The Rev. C.J. Wright, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Austin, engages residents at a July 7 community meeting the church hosted. | Wendell Hutson/Contributor

One way to reduce drug activity in Austin that often leads to gun violence is to ban convicted drug dealers, one longtime resident said.

“We shouldn’t allow people who have gone to jail for selling drugs (like gangbangers) an opportunity to come back into the community and do the same thing,” said Anita Collins, a 27-year Austin resident.

Collins was among 30 people that attended a community meeting last week sponsored by the Greater Austin Independent Political Organization (GAIPO) held at Christ Church, 1511 N. Long Ave. Residents discussed ways to improve problems plaguing Austin. Besides a ban on drug dealers and gang members, residents at the two-hour meeting said more jobs and mentors are also needed to curb the violence, which often involves young, black men.

“The people getting shot on the street and doing all the killings are young, black men with no job or positive, male role models in their lives,” said Diane Coleman, a 30-year Austin resident. “I want there to be unity in my community and I want to help make a difference. As a community we have got to do better in helping our youth and young adults if we don’t want this population to be completely wiped out.”

Quinn Rallins, a community organizer for GAIPO, moderated the July 7 meeting and said the organization’s goal was to gather suggestions from residents about how to solve problems in Austin.

“What I heard from residents [tonight] is that they feel powerless in their own neighborhood,” said Rallins. “No resident should have to feel that way about their community. We sponsor these monthly meetings as a way for residents to speak out against problems and talk about solutions to fix them.”

And Collins, a 65-year-old mother and grandmother, added that as a home healthcare worker in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side, she sees a lot of problems there have shifted to Austin.

“We didn’t have this drug and gang problem years ago,” said Collins. “I work in Englewood and all this stuff migrated from over there.”

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward includes Austin, did not attend the meeting, but said everyone must work together to solve problems in their community.

“These problems [violence, drugs and gangs] remain in Austin and many other areas in Chicago. There’s no need to point fingers and try to assign blame,” explained Mitts. “Instead, everyone who claims to be concerned must get to work right where they are and send the message that this can no longer be tolerated.”

Christ Lutheran Church in Austin hosted the meeting and its pastor, C.J. Wright, said clergy leaders have a role to play in solving community problems, too.

“As a church we have to take care of ‘our backyard’ and that means helping the community we serve,” said Wright. “If people were connected to God they would make wiser choices in life.”