Two West Side state representatives, Chicago Police Department 15th District Commander Dwayne Betts and Loretto Hospital officials gathered in front of the hospital’s emergency room entrance on June 12 to call for the federal government to crack down on what they see are major issues facing Austin.
The officials decried the flow of “illegal guns and illegal drugs,” not only from out of state, but also from outside of the country, saying that it increases the number of violent deaths and puts a strain on the community as a whole, undermining ongoing efforts to reduce violence and drug addiction.
The press conference was organized by Betts and state representative LaShawn K. Ford (8th). In an official statement issued ahead of the conference, Ford said that he was concerned about rising levels of violence in Austin, noting that the community logged more than 30 homicides in the first half of 2017.
During the press conference, Ford said that the flow of illegal guns and illegal drugs has been taxing for Loretto and other West Side hospitals. He also said that the flow of out out-of-state weapons also hurts law enforcement.
“When we talk about people being killed we also have to be concerned about Chicago police, because the flow of illegal guns and illegal drugs puts our officers in danger,” he said. “The flow of illegal guns and illegal drugs is clearly a federal problem that’s thrust upon states and cities. We have to put the pressure on the federal government to stop the flow of illegal guns and illegal drugs.”
In response to a follow-up question, he said that, in trying to build a wall between United States and Mexico, the Trump administration was attacking the wrong problem.
“Illegal immigrants are not shooting people the way those guns do,” Ford said. “The federal government must recognize that illegal drugs and illegal guns should be [seen as] a number one problem that stops us from making America great again.”
Betts said that while the police and community activists are already working hard to stop the violence, the flow of guns and drugs makes their jobs harder.
“[Police have recovered] AK-47s – there’s no reason for anyone to own a gun like that in Chicago,” he said. “Residents think it’s common sense that we need to stop this stuff from coming into the community. It isn’t enough to say ‘put the guns down.’ It isn’t enough to put the dope down.”
Betts reiterated something that he previously discussed at community meetings organized by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). He explained that CPD offers access to resources to help people they consider are likely to be killed build honest, productive lives.
State representative Camille Lilly (78th), who attended the conference in her capacity as an elected official and Loretto’s vice president of external affairs, said that the hospital has been working with Austin community organizations, police and churches to improve community health.
“But with the flow of illegal guns and illegal drugs, it has been to no avail,” she said. “We have not been able to a get a stride to make this unfortunate activity turn around.’
Lilly said that in addition to treating gunshot victims, the hospital has been working to treat addiction, but the flow of drugs is making their jobs harder.
“We are a team that makes a difference in the community and if the federal government doesn’t see it, shame on them,” she said. “We need their help.”
Later, Lilly clarified that, by “help,” she didn’t mean just more law enforcement. The state representative said that and her employer want the federal government to put more funding into prevention, treatment, education and employment.
Dr. Sonia Mehta, Loretto’s CEO echoed Lilly’s point.
“It’s very important that the federal government listens to us and keeps the drugs and guns out of the community,” she said. “The flow of those guns and drugs is just not helping. We need to improve the health of the West Side of Chicago.
Austin community activist Deborah Williams reflected that she was nervous about letting her daughter go to the beach after two young men were shot at another beach the previous weekend.
“It’s really concerning that you can’t even have your child go out and have a good time,” she said. “I’m asking the federal government to step in and stop the flow of guns and illegal drugs.”