Every Wednesday in June, members of Austin’s churches will stand on corners throughout the West Side neighborhood for an hour acting as a deterrent to crime as part of the Chicago Police Department’s
15th District CAPS Faith-Based Subcommittee’s “100 Blocks and 100 Churches” initiative.
The plan is to get 100 churches in Austin to participate by having volunteers from their congregations stand on 100 selected corners – often those where criminal activity occur – from 6 to 7 p.m. starting June 2.
These folks will be doing what 15th District CAPS Officer Alphonso Townsend calls “positive loitering” as a way of addressing violence and drug sales, and to show local criminals and drug dealers that the community is united in keeping the streets safe. Townsend said the initiative will function to “take the blocks back- they’re ours.”
More than 70 churches have agreed to participate so far.
On the final Wednesday, June 30, participants are invited to the 15th District’s police station parking lot at 5701 W. Madison St. from 6 to 7 p.m. for a community celebration cook-out where local youth will lead a thank-you celebration in song and dance.
Team leaders of the volunteers will wear blue lights on ropes, and there will be T-shirts advertising 100 Blocks and 100 Churches available for $5. Extra local police will be patrolling those nights, said Townsend.
Townsend, fellow CAPS Officer Tonya Collins and CPD community organizer Christine Perez came up with the idea to have people stand on corners in Austin earlier this year. They wanted residents to see the police working in conjunction with the community outside of a crime setting.
Rev. Brian Covell of the Third Unitarian Church at 301 N. Mayfield St., said he and six to seven members of his congregation and members of the Austin Outreach Committee plan to stand on the northeast corner of Mayfield Avenue and Fulton Street.
Covell said that “generally when the weather gets warmer … [at] the end of school, the traffic pattern for vagrancy creeps up” around his church. He said the corner of Mason Avenue and Fulton Street near his church is especially bad for loitering.
Covell and his congregation recently held prayer vigils in front of some buildings by the church where there has been criminal activity. One of the buildings changed ownership, with a more-involved owner replacing the former absentee landlord. Their vigils “seemed to make a difference,” he said, “but it didn’t end the issue.”
This isn’t a new idea, said Officer Townsend, noting that a similar program was held four years ago called 100 Corners, 100 Blocks that involved cook-outs on the individual blocks. The Greater Saint John Bible Church organized a similar event a few years ago, where congregation members prayed on corners, said Townsend.
This initiative comes at a crucial time with a number of high-profile shootings dominating the news.
The focus beyond June is to continue the effort through monthly meetings with 15th District faith and block-based partners and to create a free Web site listing future activities.
Since the program was launched, information has been distributed at CAPS and church meetings as well as through e-mail blasts from the CAPS offices, said Perez.
To receive information, call the 15th District police headquarters at (312) 743-1495 or (312) 743-1440 and ask to speak to a CAPS Officer. You may also attend local beat meetings; for more info, visit www.clearpath.org or www.chicagoonestop.info.