Lawmakers: Rioting, looting in response to video would devastate West Side

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Riots and looting on the West Side following the release of the police shooting video of Laquan McDonald would have long-lasting, negative effects on the community, Austin elected officials warned Wednesday.

Since the video’s release late Tuesday by the Chicago Police Department via a court order, Austin has been relatively quiet. Still, black elected officials continue to urge for calm.

Officials feared that some angry residents might take to the streets in violence protests and loot local businesses.

A repeat of Ferguson Mo., which erupted in violence and looting last year is what officials hope to avoid. Some businesses in the predominantly black community were severely damaged or burned to the ground after no charges were brought against the officer who shot to death Michael Brown.

Such destruction here in Chicago, local black officials warned, takes years if not decades to overcome.

“When unrest comes into the community and destroys your economic base, it’s very difficult to bring that type of develop back,” said state Rep. Camille Lilly, who’s also the former executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

It wasn’t just Missouri that was on the minds of Chicago’s black officials and residents, but also Baltimore, where an outbreak of violence occurred earlier this year after the death of Freddie Gray.

Gray suffered a severe spinal injury while being arrested and died a week later. The officers involved in his arrest were charged with, among other things, manslaughter.

“Ferguson and Baltimore, those responses have been negative,” Lilly said. “You have decades of destroyed vision, destroyed communities, because of violence.”

Memories of the 1968 riots that followed the killing of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also were mentioned by West Side lawmakers.

Austin and North Lawndale were among the communities nationwide that saw rioting, violence and destroyed businesses. North Lawndale experienced decades of destruction that it’s just recently emerged from, noted Ald. Walter Burnett, whose 27th Ward includes the West Side neighborhood.

“We have built up our communities. Things are happening on the West Side,” Burnett said. “Jobs are coming back, businesses are moving in; folks are moving in. The community economic development is starting to happen, and we don’t want to hinder that.”

Burnett said he’s very concerned of setting back that progress if violence occurs because of the Laquan McDonald video.

“It took 50 years for us to get back to where we are, and we’re not all the way to where we were. The West Side used to have businesses on every street, and everybody had a job working for someone,” Burnett said. “After the riots, everything got burned down, and it’s taken all these years to bring it back.”

Residents share those concerns and are hoping for continued peace.

Clifton “Booney” McFowler, who grew up on the West Side, recalled making bad choices that landed him in prison. He’s now a street intervention specialist with BUILD, a nonprofit in Austin focused on helping at-risk youth.

BUILD actually started a year later in the aftermath of the ’68 riots, initially focused on helping steer youth from gangs.

McFowler said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of what happened in the past.

“The core to our issue is economics. We got to get control of the economics of our community,” McFowler said. “We must get our youth some vocational training so they can become entrepreneurs. This can be a good or a bad thing, but that depends on us as a community.”

McFowler said both youth and the police need training on how to better interact with each other.

“We need to teach our kids some counter-active moves, so they won’t be in these positions. And police got to do it, too. It’s got to be a two-way street,” he said.

“My concern is my community and the kids in my community. What are we going to do to keep a child from being killed, or put in a position where he can get killed?”

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