Mother’s Day will never be the same again for Carl Cowans, who lost his oldest son to gun violence in 2017.
“I try to spend time with my mom on Mother’s Day but it’s hard to celebrate her because I am thinking about my son, who was gunned down on the street at age 24,” recalled Carl Cowans, a 46-year-old Austin resident. “My son and his best friend were outside walking around and enjoying the day when some guys pulled up in a car and started shooting for no reason. He was a good kid who was not involved in drugs or gangs. To this day his death remains unsolved.”
It is stories like Cowans and an uptick in violence and a lack of economic development on the West Side that pushed state Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th) to announce during a recent community meeting with constituents, nonprofit leaders and community activists that the area is in a state of emergency.
“The West Side is under attack and we must declare an emergency to get the resources we need to combat crime, drugs and a decline in the local economy,” said Ford. “Unlike other communities that receive assistance from the city, state, county and federal government the West Side is drowning and there are not enough life jackets to go around.”
The West Side neighborhood is one of Chicago’s largest community areas, but it’s also plagued by poor schools, high unemployment, crime, and low economic development, said Ford.
The community has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the city at 10.5 percent compared to Chicago’s overall rate of around 8 percent, according to the Chicago Health Atlas. The predominately black neighborhood has also become an epicenter of the opioid overdose crisis in Illinois. In 2017, the last year data was available, 67 people died from an opioid overdose, according to the Chicago Health Atlas.
And violence is not limited to adults but children too.
With the last few years, 10 children at the West Side Child Development Center, 4920 W. Madison St., witnessed their parents get shot, including three this year, according to Tamera Fair, chief executive officer of the development center.
“We have an in-house counselor who works with children affected by violence,” said Fair. “These are kids who suffer physiological and emotional damage from these shootings.”
And the root cause of so much violence is poverty, said Fair.
“A lack of jobs, education and access to capital is hurting ‘our’ people. If we can fix these problems then violence would go down and the economy would improve,” she said. “But until that happens people will remain in survival mode and do whatever they have to in order to provide for their families even if that means illegal activity.”
Ford said he plans to mount more pressure on state lawmakers until they give the West Side their fair share of resources that would then allow for more grants for grassroots organizations.
“We need to help the West Side chapter of the NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People), Good Neighbor Campaign, our churches and yes even our police officers,” added Ford. “I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of seeing my community look like a second-class place to live. Shame on us for letting people treat us like second-class citizens.”