Local residents spoke out against bringing the National Guard to their West Side neighborhood at Rep. La Shawn Ford’s Town Hall meeting held Monday.
Whenever the National Guard was mentioned, an audible ripple of objection could be heard throughout the Ronald E. McNair Elementary School’s gym at 4820 W. Walton St.
Many said they feared abuse of power, while others said they wanted their tax dollars that would beused to pay guardsmen put to other uses, such as creating jobs.
Before Rep. Ford could even kick off the event, community organizations made it clear they oppose the National Guard idea and offered their own solutions to stop the violence. Saving Our Sons, or S.O.S Ministries, held signs that read, “We say no the National Guard and yes to more jobs!”
Reginald Akkeem Berry Sr., founder of S.O.S, believes work will solve a lot of the drug and gang issues in Austin. An ex-offender himself, Berry rallied together other former convicts to teach West Side men trades like construction and home weatherization.
“We need an alternative, not an ultimatum,” says Berry.
He said men, especially in the 14-to-35-year-old age group, sell drugs and commit other crimes to make a living when there are no other options. If there are jobs, opposing gang members will work side-by-side because they no longer have to hustle drugs and protect territory, says Berry.
Before entering the gym, town hall meeting participants received a program that contained a card to write down questions for Rep. Ford or a member of his panel, which included Chicago police officers, representatives from the Chicago Public Schools’ safety office, a spokesman from Mayor Daley’s office and a representative from Ceasefire.
Jobs remained a hot topic throughout the night. One question card asked why the unemployment rate for African Americans was higher than for other races in Illinois. Another questioned how many Austin teenagers were actually being hired for the Mayor’s Youth Ready Chicago program.
Others wanted to know why certain resources weren’t being put to use.
Some people felt that surveillance cameras on streetlights weren’t being used to target drug dealers or other criminals. Many wanted to know why higher crime areas like Austin had the same number of police as lower crime neighborhoods.
Walter Green, 15th district police commander, answered that cameras could not be watched all the time and that officers were distributed equally so every Chicagoan has equal protection. Rep. Ford suggested that community members put pressure on the mayor to get more police coverage for Austin, the city’s largest neighborhood.
Toward the end of the two-hour meeting community members got a chance to speak. One woman pleaded with the mothers in the room to kick out wrongdoing children from their homes to stop the enabling, while S.O.S members continued their cry for jobs.
Many simply called for action, encouraging neighbors to come together as a community and take a stance against violence.
After the meeting, Rep. Ford said he filed legislation to create a “Scratch Out Crime” lottery ticket. If signed into law, net revenue from the sale of the tickets would go toward hiring more police officers. Despite protests, he still wants to bring in the National Guard until the police force can be increased.
As for jobs Rep. Ford says he hopes Austin residents will take advantage of micro loans, small low interest loans, to start their own businesses. He helped pass the African American Employment Plan, which seeks to increase the number of African Americans employed by the state of Illinois.
Read what AustinTalks commentator John W. Fountain III wrote last week about the National Guard proposal.