As gun violence continues to surge in Austin, residents look for answers

September 21, 2015
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After a particularly violent summer, Chicago is on pace to surpass the number of shooting victims from last year. And the Austin community has been at the center of much of the violence.

So far this year, there have been 2,133 victims of gun violence throughout Chicago, compared to 2,587 for all of last year, according to data collected by the Chicago Tribune.

In Austin, 184 people have been victims of the gun violence this year, compared to 209 for all of 2014.

Those shootings have resulted in 299 deaths in Chicago, 27 of those in Austin, according to data collected by DNAinfo.com.

The rash of violence has concerned residents forming groups in an effort to find solutions.

One such group, the Greater Austin Independent Political Organization, held a meeting last week at La Follette Park.

Tara Stamps, who unsuccessfully challenged Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) earlier this year , said she and her volunteers started the group because they still had a responsibility to the community, despite losing at the polls.

“One of the things we had decided, or one of the things we wanted to do, was to make sure the community became more educated about what was at stake,” said Stamps, a CPS teacher.

During her campaign, Stamps said she found issue of violence polled highest among residents.

While many people agree the roots of the ongoing violence can be found in poor economic and educational opportunities in the area, Stamps and several others at the meeting also discussed the possibility that those in power are in no rush to fix the problems because it makes Austin an attractive target for outside developers to buy up properties at significantly lower rates and eventually gentrify the community.

“If you look at the history and the track record of this city, when they level properties and when they gentrify communities, they force poor people out,” Stamps said. “More often than not, those people are people of color, black and Latinos.

“This is a buy low-sell high situation.”

But not everyone agrees with that assessment.

“I can’t say that I subscribe to that,” said Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th). “Ever since I became alderman, I’ve been able to sit down with people — including (Mayor Rahm Emanuel) — that are very vested in reducing crime in Austin.”

In fact, the Chicago Police Department has been working with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office throughout the summer to help police Austin and other West Side neighborhoods.

In three separate operations during April, May and September, sheriff’s deputies helped recover as many as 26 unlawful guns in the 15th District, said Janet De La Torre of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office.

Taliaferro agrees that more needs to be done in areas besides law enforcement to help curb the violence.

“I’ve always said that strict law enforcement is not the only method,” said Taliaferro, a longtime police officer. “So even from a Chicago Public School stance, by increasing after school activities without cost to our parents, or supporting more programs to have after school programs for our youth and young adults, that’s going to help to reduce crime as well.

“There’s a host of things to do to help reduce crime. So we have to hit them from all angles and to ensure that there’s support for those who are trying to reduce crime.”

Taliaferro said he’s continuing to work with both the city council and state lawmakers to impose stiffer penalties for those caught with illegal firearms.

Mitts said she has been in daily contact with city hall and police leadership, and she’s focused on bringing jobs and resources programs to offer positive alternatives to violence in her ward.

“We don’t want to live every day with two or three murders,” Mitts said. “We don’t have to live this way.”

The Greater Austin Independent Political Organization is continuing to reach out to individual residents and community groups to join together in an effort to find “sustainable solutions” to the violence problem, Stamps said.

“At the root of it, we are all concerned about the same thing,” Stamps said.

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