Chicago’s Austin community is often in the spotlight for persistent issues of crime and violence. For those removed from the neighborhood and its residents, it may be easy to believe the community doesn’t care or is complicit in the proliferation of drugs and gangs. This line of thinking couldn’t be more wrong, however, as proven time and time again by the youth who engage in our programs and the community members who joined our Safe Summer Peace March last month.
Last night, Austin youth jumped at another opportunity to bring positive change to their community by attempting to attend the Chicago Police Department “Neighborhood Listening Tour.” WHA staff and youth leaders hoped to discuss with Superintendent McCarthy the strained relationship between Austin residents and local police, as well as their desire to see more cooperation between CPD and those they serve. Youth answered surveys and prepared themselves to speak, but were told upon arrival that the event was “invitation only.”
Our organizers and other community leaders, including Tara Stamps, spoke with Commander Betts before the meeting began to express our disappointment. Our questions as to why they failed to invite those affected most by the issues being discussed went unanswered. According to Westside Health Authority’s Chief Operating Officer, Quiwana Bell, “CPD cannot solve the issue of violence without community input, or without input from the youth who are just as concerned, just as affected, and just as resolute about combating violent crime. When will police listen and give proper respect to youth, instead of generalizing them all as part of the problem?”
We hope our youth will be given such an opportunity soon, after being informed that a separate meeting would be scheduled by the Superintendent and Commander with youth from our program. We were also able to hand Superintendent McCarthy the results of our survey of WHA youth on their impressions of police relations.
Still, these small gains could not keep the look of disillusionment from sweeping across the faces of the young people who had a lot to say about how CPD could better protect/serve Austin and similar neighborhoods. They were vocal about their disappointment, echoing the sentiments of Darius Redmond (pictured below) while they waited outside the doors of the meeting: “The media broadcasts a lot about teenage violence, but when teenagers and young adults get together to have a change in the community, our voices are not listened to.”
Despite being a little disheartened, our youth left last night more determined than ever to have their voices heard. Darius adds, “violence is going to continue to grow until someone stops it… It is up to us, the Westside Health Authority, and any other individuals who care about cleaning up the violence in the City of Chicago.”