Austin’s Central Avenue and Lake Street near the Green Line el is no stranger to violence.
Residents routinely complain about the crime, litter and loitering it attracts. Shootings at the busy intersection near Austin Town Hall, a library branch and two high schools have become as common to residents as the CTA and Metra trains that go by on the tracks above.
The April 8 daytime shooting of six people at the intersection has added to its infamy – and to growing community concerns.
“A greater police presence at that particular location is of upmost importance,” said Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) in an interview last week with AustinTalks.
Six men were shot, including one who died, in what police say was a drive-by shooting. What’s more, a police car is routinely parked nearby on Corcoran Place, and was there the day of the shooting.
“That unit immediately started rendering aid to the victim who passed away. He did the right thing and followed proper procedures in rendering aid first,” said Taliaferro, a former Chicago police officer.
To date, 129 people have been shot in Austin this year, including about a dozen at or near Central and Lake, according to police data compiled by Chicago Tribune.
Taliaferro is calling on the city to come up with a strategy to reduce violence on the West Side, or at least inform residents about what’s being done if such a strategy exists.
“One of my biggest concerns is: I don’t know what policing initiative is currently going on to reduce violence. There are some legislative issues that’s happening, but I don’t know of any police initiatives happening to reduce violence on the West Side of Chicago, and that concerns me a whole lot, ” Taliaferro said.
The April 8 shooting has perplexed some residents because it happened in broad daylight. Residents are calling for a greater police presence at Central and Lake, though Taliaferro noted that police were just steps away from the area when the shooting occurred.
Still, some residents want an even greater police presence at Central and Lake.
“A lot of my work involves that corner,” said Cook County Judge Marianne Jackson, who’s also an Austin resident.
Jackson said she drives by Central and Lake daily and often sees many young men who loiter there come through her courtroom. Jackson said she expected to see a note on her desk that one of them had been shot that Friday afternoon.
“The note was laying there; I had a kid shot on that corner,” Jackson said at a community meeting just days after the shootings, adding there could have very well been a seventh shooting victim.
“I had a kid in the detention center who would have been on that corner, and there’s no doubt in my mind he would have been shot,” Jackson said, insisting that more police surveillance is needed at Central and Lake to “get some more control of that corner.”
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, also at the same community meeting, said he went out to Central and Lake after hearing about the shooting.
“When I went out there, it looked like a war zone,” he said. “We got a violence problem in the city. If a child is not safe to walk down the street, how can they learn in the classroom if they’re worried about being shot?”
Taliaferro said the city needs to bring back neighborhood beat officers, a policing strategy implemented when the first-term alderman was still on the Chicago Police force.
Operation Impact Zone targeted high-crime areas and, according to Taliaferro, saw a decrease in crime in those hot spots; the program, however, has since been phased out.
“That strategy was very effective,” said Taliaferro, who supervised one of the impact zones. “We saw a dramatic decrease in violent crimes in the area in which I supervised. And not just my area, that happened throughout the city.
“There were six to eight officers walking the beat,” Taliaferro recalled. “They were walking that impact zone, getting to know the residents, getting to know the business owners and getting to know the players out there as well.”
Dwayne Truss, a community organizer and longtime Austin resident, said police cars have been at Central and Lake “many times.” Truss, however, said the violence in the community goes deeper than just policing.
“We have to take ownership of our kids. You can hire more police, but I would like to – for once – focus on the front end: identify the problem and come up with solutions that we can control.”