Violence is becoming more brazen in Evanston. It is also becoming more insidious – at times tempers are flaring, civility is flying out the window, civil discourse is on the wane. Anger and the public expression of it have become matters of personal virtue.
The slumping economy increases the financial desperation of people out of work or clinging to part time jobs, which has the potential to lead to increased crimes against persons, property, and, at its worst, against family and friends.
The shooting death of 32-year-old Desrick York by police officers last month is emblematic not only of the tinderbox of human behavior but also of the reverberations that violent confrontations produce in any community.
Our condolences go out to all the families touched by this tragedy: Mr. York’s family and loved ones, who will continue to mourn him, and to the police officers and their families, who will also carry the scar of having felt the necessity to exert deadly force in that situation.
Mr. York was shot by police just a few blocks from where Evanston Township High School student Darryl Shannon Pickett was shot by another youth in June 2007, a few blocks from where a man with a shotgun fired on police in July 2008, and a few blocks from where a violent shootout between gangs occurred last week. Police Chief Richard Eddington said it was only by divine intervention that no one was killed in that shootout. (See story at evanstonroundtable.com.)
Last year the Evanston Police Department received 137 calls reporting “shots fired” or “man with a gun.” These calls have been concentrated south of the canal and west of the Metra tracks, but no matter where they occur, they are intolerable in this community.
The use of guns and sales of illegal drugs by gang members or others – and other antisocial activities – are not part of the core values of any neighborhood in Evanston, nor of the community as a whole. Like any bad habits, they have crept in, trying to find root alongside the strong values our neighborhoods evince: united families, hard work and pride. These antisocial activities are by their very nature violence-prone, and when they take over a neighborhood, they have the potential to choke the moral, ethical and family values that have kept this community together for more than a century.
As the problem arises in a neighborhood, so must the seed of the solution. To be effective and enduring, any solution must germinate from within, not be imposed from without. We can point to a few things neighborhood groups are doing now to extirpate guns, drugs and violence: maintaining a visible presence of positive activities; holding quiet marches and vigils; calling the police hotlines to report criminal activity in as much detail as possible; forming e-mail or telephone groups that call or correspond frequently with tips on crime and neighborhood safety; attending ward or town hall meetings focused on public safety. As these groups grow, they will find communitywide support.
At the same time, the police and the community need to build trust. The new City Council and School Boards need to address the many root causes of violence. A few weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control mobilized the entire country against swine flu. Is not violence also an immediate threat to our community? Surely we in Evanston, with or without those in power in our state and our country, can mobilize that quickly and passionately against violence.