Murders down citywide in 2014, but not in Austin

January 15, 2015
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Chicago continued to see a drop in the number of homicides last year – one of the lowest rates in decades, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. But in some neighborhoods – like Austin – there has been no decrease.

That troubles local residents and community activists, such as Elce Redmond.

Redmond, a longtime organizer for the South Austin Coalition Community Council, said there are many reasons why homicides in Austin aren’t going down.

“A lot of it has to do with issues like poverty, joblessness and foreclosures,” Redmond said. “I think that unless those issues are addressed, there is very little that can be done about the violence within the community.”

Citywide, 432 homicides were reported in 2014, according to the Chicago Tribune, more than the 422 murders reported in 2013 but lower than the 509 reported in 2012, according to DNAinfo.

In Austin, there were 35 homicides last year, up from 21 in 2013 but one less than the 36 reported in 2012, according to the RedEye Homicide Tracker.

The youngest victim of 2014 was 14, while the oldest was 56. Of the 35 people killed, all were male. There were 31 homicides by gunshot, 1 by assault, 1 by car crash, 1 unsolved trauma injury to the head and 1 stabbing, according to RedEye.

It’s not clear how many arrests have been made in these 35 Austin deaths, but in years past many cases have gone unsolved.

And the killings continue.

Chicago’s first homicide of 2015 occurred in Austin, when 39-year-old Randy James was shot to death in the 5000 block of West Superior Street, according to the Chicago Tribune. No one has been arrested for James’ murder.

There is a lot that needs to be done to fix the make areas like Austin safer, Redmond said.

One solution would be for the police to care more about individuals affected by murder in these areas, Redmond said.

“That person who was killed, regardless of what their lives were, they were someone’s brother, they were someone’s son and they were someone’s uncle,” Redmond said.

There needs to be real community policing, he said, where police are integrated with residents to build trust.

The Chicago Police Department’s 15th District declined to comment.

Restorative justice programs also are needed to lower recidivism and keep offenders from returning to jail, Redmond said. He and other community advocate would like to see city officials re-invest in companies, schools and mental clinics, saying the divestment by government over the years has crippled the community.

A vacuum has been created “where people are fighting for daily survival, and unfortunately, some of those folks engage in activities that create violence,” Redmond said.

The majority of people are fighting to survive; they’re not out there trying to hurt anyone else, they’re just trying to keep their heads above water, he said.

Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, said it isn’t just up to police to change Austin, but to aldermen and the mayor, too.

“The ball is in the court of the elected officials,” Acree said. “They control the budget, and they make decisions on where money is supposed to be invested.”

Crime in neighborhoods like Austin is solved through education and economic stimulation, Acree said.

And when those solutions are imposed, people will no longer resort to violence and crime as a last resort to survival, he said.

“These people are not committing crimes because the police are making them do it,” Acree said. “They’re not committing crimes because they just get a kick out of shooting guns. They are committing crimes because they are driven by economic desperation.”

Tracy Siska, executive director at the Chicago Justice Project, agreed, saying nothing will change in areas like Austin until there is better investment in the community.

Austin has long had a relatively high rate of violence, Siska said. But it’s important to remember that violence and crime has become a last resort for those in areas with high poverty, he said.

“These aren’t people who are passing up $20-an-hour factory jobs; there aren’t any,” Siska said. “They have no other recourse, no way of making money and surviving but to steal and rob.”

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