By Igor Studenkov
In his first state of the ward address, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) argued that cooperation between residents, community organizations, police officers and elected officials was critical to addressing many problems in the West Side ward.
In the address, held Jan. 28th at Amundsen Park, Taliaferro tried to strike a balance between acknowledging the grim realities facing the ward residents and assuring his constituents that he is doing something to address them.
“We have a lot of serious things that are going on in our ward,” he said. “Honestly assessing myself, I would honestly tell you that we’ve grown in some areas and didn’t grow with some areas.”
Taliaferro noted that, among his major concerns, crime ranked high.
“We had 48 deaths last year,” he said. “That’s more than any other community in Chicago. This has to wake us up. We have to focus on reducing those numbers.”
Taliaferro emphasized community policing as a measure that could be effective in reducing the high crime rate in his ward.
“I think we as a community can’t give up on [the policy-community relationships],” said Taliaferro, who served on the Chicago Police Department force until his election last spring.
“We still need to fight for justice, for equality, to have [a police force that reflects the community]. But at the same time we need to fight for community-police programs, where we have dynamic community police relationships.”
He said that, two weeks earlier, Sheriff Tom Dart and Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante took part in a meeting that also involved Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) and Ald. Ed Burke (14th). The officials agreed to work together to address various issues.
“We’ve seen [this approach] be successful in LA, we’ve seen this be successful in New York,” Taliaferro said. “We’re hoping and we’re praying that this collaborative effort will have the same effect.”
Taliaferro said one of the major reasons crime is rampant is many young men in the community “do whatever they do” because they feel hopeless.
He said he recently attended a Chicago Urban League meeting where elected officials listened to the city youth talking about their concerns.
The youth said lack of job and educational opportunities were major concerns of theirs. The issue of youth unemployment is especially acute in Austin, the alderman said.
“We need to provide jobs, we need to provide educational opportunities,” Taliaferro said. “That’s what we need to do as a community, because we can’t go through 2016 [like] what we went through in 2015.”
The alderman said employment opportunities would “take the excuses away from [the youth], because when they’re provided with opportunities, excuses evaporate.”
In the areas of economic development and education, Taliaferro said he’s been working with industrial businesses along Roosevelt Road to establish a program with Austin Polytech Academy to train students for careers in industry.
If the consolidation of Austin high schools gets approved by the Chicago Board of Education this month, the combined school would retain the program.
Taliaferro said economic development, education and crime reduction go hand-in-hand.
“It’s very difficult to bring a huge company in the area where the CEO or president [of the company] isn’t particularly safe,” he said. “When they see a community with crime, especially violent crime, they stay away.”
As a potential crime reducing and educational opportunity tool, Taliaferro mentioned two tutoring programs for 7th and 11th graders operated by his ward office.
The alderman said that this year he will be actively working to ensure ward residents receive more services to help youth get high school diplomas/GEDs. He said that he’d eventually like to see five such programs operational at any given time.