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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

To Make The West Side Safer, We Need To Engage The Youth, Lawndale Neighbors Say

Neighbors discussed violence prevention strategies this week, including adding zone parking signs on a block to reduce loitering and gang activity.

A row of homes in North Lawndale.

NORTH LAWNDALE — At the first public safety meeting in the year, North Lawndale leaders said they want to connect with youth as they work to make the neighborhood safer.

The North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council led a meeting on strategies to build a safer West Side Wednesday at UCAN, 3605 W. Fillmore St. The meeting celebrated several victories in the neighborhood, while also identifying a crucial priority moving forward for the group: engaging the youth and bringing residents from every corner of Lawndale together to stop violence.

Leaders discussed how groups represented at the meeting could coordinate the programs they run to advance the public safety strategies outlined in the North Lawndale Quality of Life Plan.

The neighborhood’s public safety plan focuses on reducing violence by connecting at-risk community members with wraparound supportive services to deal with some of the root causes of crime, like addiction, homelessness, unemployment and trauma. The plan also promotes a restorative justice approach to crime that prioritizes rehabilitation over incarceration.

Members of the committee included representatives from School of the Art Institute, youth services organization UCAN, the North Lawndale Employment Network, Communities Partnering 4 Peace, Lawndale Christian Legal Center, Sinai Community Institute and others.

Richard Townsell of the North Lawndale Homeowners Association discussed strategies West Side homeowners implemented to bring more amenities to the area, which will improve safety, he said. A major victory last year was the homeowners association’s successful push for the city to renovate the run-down Douglass Branch Library.

“We wanted to work on things other than housing. …It’s really about, how do we use our power to negotiate with the city,” Townsell said.

In an effort to make the 1600 block of South Christiana Avenue safer, homeowners successfully lobbied the city to put up zone parking signs on the block to reduce loitering and gang activity that sometimes led to violence in the area, Townsell said.

The parking-zone change led to spirited discussion at the meeting about how the group could ensure public safety strategies are restorative rather than punitive.

Rather than punishing young people that sometimes stir up trouble on the block with fines and tickets, some neighbors said those youth need to be brought into the fold so that they could have a say in the types of opportunities groups are working to bring to North Lawndale. Without bringing young people into the conversation, it is impossible to determine the kind of support they need to reform themselves, one neighbor said.

“It’s our duty, our responsibilities as organizers and people of this community… to go into the community and connect with those youth,” said resident Chaundra McGee. McGee said many of the youth engaged in crime are disconnected from the improvements that the Quality of Life Plan is bringing to the neighborhood because they are preoccupied with navigating a struggling public education system, housing instability and a lack of job opportunity.

Other residents said their efforts to bring young people to the table and to get them involved with neighborhood groups have been ineffective. In some cases, attempts by residents to intervene with rowdy young people in the streets put them in danger, one woman said.

“It’s important to know who the gatekeepers are,” one man said about youth who are trusted among their peers. “That’s who you bring to the table.”

Street outreach worker Darnell Woods from the Lawndale Christian Legal Center said in order to get engage disillusioned young people, the group has to be able to give them opportunities and resources.

“I think you’ve got to offer them something. The same way they got tricked going one way, we can get them to go the other way,” Woods said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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