Chicago police officers from the 15th District recently organized a block canvass with local clergy and community leaders to bring awareness to continued gun violence in Austin.
After initially meeting at the Helping Hand Church, 538 N. Lavergne Ave., the 15th District’s Austin Mobilization Team hit the street knocking on doors and speaking with residents about their concerns.
The goal of the April 11 event, said police officer Tonya Collins, was to get residents more involved with police to help combat shootings in Austin.
“This is our second block canvass and we’re going to be conducting block canvasses all summer and up until the fall,” said Collins, a CAPS (Chicago Alternative Police Strategy) member. “We hope to have our next canvass in May and plan to target locations that have a lot of shootings and other different public violence in the area.”
She added that to achieve this goal police officers must build trust with residents.
“If we’re going to work together we have to be able to trust one another and that is something CAPS is constantly working towards,” said Collins, who argued that one contributing factor to violence in Austin is curfew.
In Chicago, the curfew law states that minors 16 years old and under must be accompanied by an adult in public after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“We have a lot of activities that contribute to violence and curfew is one of them. Minors should be in the presence of a parent and that’s not happening,” explained Collins. “Unfortunately, a lot of our crime takes place at night after curfew and it usually involves juveniles.”
Another contributing factor to rising crime in Austin is young, single mothers raising boys, said Rev. Rosetta Dotson, a volunteer with the Good Neighbor Campaign in Austin.
“Too many babies are having too many babies,” said Dotson. “I know a young mother, who is 22-years-old and raising five kids with no help from the father.”
Dotson said along with young mothers, who often have weak parenting skills, a lack of jobs and drugs are other reasons why so much crime is taking place in Austin.
“Parenting skills need to be taught to these young mothers between 18 and 24-years-old. But beyond that the community still needs jobs and more drug prevention programs,” said Dotson. “Otherwise, you can expect the same result year after year.”
As volunteers marched down the block urging residents to get involved, one resident said she came outside after hearing the group praying.
“I was in my kitchen when I heard someone on a bullhorn praying. It moved me so much that came outside to see what was going on,” said Sharon Hodges, 53. “I have been here in Austin for seven years and it has always been infested with crime.”
Hodges said her grandchildren live with her but are afraid to go outside and play.
“I lost a child to gun violence [in Austin] so I know the pain first hand. When I was growing up we could go to the park and play but now that’s not even safe,” added Hodges, whose 16-year-old daughter was shot in a 2000 drive-by and later died from her injuries in 2007. “Only God can fix this gun violence problem. But it’s nice to see the police and concerned residents doing what they can to keep things to a minimum.”