Safe, clean streets focus of new Austin group

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A new community group in Austin wants to keep its area of the neighborhood safe and clean while also connecting residents to much-needed resources.

South Austin Neighborhood Association (SANA) formed in July and meets monthly at Friendship Baptist Church, 5200 W. Jackson Blvd. The group’s boundary of focus is from Laramie Avenue west to Austin Boulevard, and Madison Street south to Roosevelt Road.

The group has attracted about 30 to 40 residents a month at its meetings, which takes place every first Tuesday. The group is distinguished from other Austin groups because its focus is very specific to safety and cleanliness, said Cassandra Norman, a member of the group’s steering committee.

The Chicago Police Department’s 15th District Commander Dwyane Betts was the guest speaker at SANA’s Oct. 6 meeting, which drew close to two dozen people.

Betts talked about improvements the 15th district has tried to make, including keeping large groups of partying youth gathering in the streets this summer away from people’s homes. He took over as 15th District commander in January.

He said this last year has been a rough one for police nationwide, referencing the incidences of police shootings of citizens.

“And maybe we needed a kick in the pants. I’m not going to say we didn’t,” Betts said. “The thing of it is, we don’t wake up with that thought of, ‘Let me go kill somebody.’ In fact, for most police officers, that’s the last resort when you pull out your gun. And it should be, but I know sometimes it’s not.”

Betts said the police have to be professional, courtesy and respectful to people.

During the Q&A with the audience, Betts said police do engage with youth outside of locking them up. He said officers are talking to young people when out patrolling.

The police, however, were criticized by one resident at the meeting for not responding quickly – or at all when called. Betts said certain calls, like those involving a shooting or domestic violence situations, will always get a higher priority over general nuisance calls.

He said the department takes every call serious and will respond as best when appropriate.

SANA has hosted other elected and public officials at previous meetings. The group is exploring becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Norman said. SANA would like to attract more residents but is still in the initial stages of growing as an organization, she said.

A four-person committee is organizing the group’s events and activities. They’ve started a cleanup campaign for their area, visiting 14 vacant lots and finding two needing attention, mostly due to pedestrian trash.

Committee member Lee Raymond said the group is encouraging neighbors who aren’t doing so already to keep their front yards and nearby alleys clean. He said the group will also talk to area pastors about encouraging their congregation members to do the same.

On. Oct. 22, the group is honoring Lillian Drummond of the South Austin Coalition Community Council (SACCC) with an honorary street renaming. Drummond, who turns 94 on Oct. 12, has been a community activist for decades and is most deserving of such an honor, SANA members said.

The ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Chicago Senior Center, 5071 Congress Parkway, with the sign placed at the corner of Congress Parkway and Leamington Avenue.

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