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Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl called residents and representatives of the City, local not-for-profit groups, the school districts and the faith community to a “safe summer summit” on June 4. About 150 people chose to turn their back on the gentle winds, the pre-summer sunlight and the many youth baseball games and duck inside the Levy Center to see how peaceful days like that one could be stretched into September.
The aggregate violence in the community – much of it involving young African American males – has given rise to protest marches and rallies by various groups. This summit offered a chance for everyone to learn what programs would be offered for youth this summer in hopes of diverting them from violence.
Six homicides in 2010 and at least two this year have taken their toll on the entire community – not just the families of the victims and the accused, said Mayor Tisdahl. “We have to get the guns out of the community,” she said more than once during her speech. She thanked the participants for coming and for “caring to build the community that we want to create for ourselves and our children.”
In many cases, Police Chief Richard Eddington has said, the fights were not over drugs or between rival gangs but by “kids who just do not like each other” and who have chosen to act out this rivalry with guns.
And while the police can enforce laws and arrest those accused of violating them, prevention of violence is the responsiblity of the community, the Chief said.
Programs and Policies
Several City and community organizations plan to extend hours of operations and possibly expand programs for youth this summer.
The City has hired 162 teens to participate in its Summer Youth Employment Program, said Doug Gaynor, director of parks, recreation and community service for the City. “We hired 400 additional youth to run camps and beaches,” he said.
Recreation will also be a large part of the summer youth engagement. Mr. Gaynor said the City is “developing a coalition to increase activities for youth.” Agencies such as Youth Organizations Umbrella, the McGaw YMCA and the Evanston North Shore YWCA and Ridgeville Park District will participate, he said. The City will offer volleyball for girls at Mason Park, indoor girls’ basketball, open gyms and roller-skating, he said. Limited transportation will be available to get kids close to home – but not door-to-door service.
Evanston Township High School will be a hub of activity this summer, said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. This year ETHS is offering an engineering camp for middle school children, he said. In addition to the four-day-per-week summer school, there will be open gym, the Y.O.U. outpost and about 75 summer camps.
District 65 will also offer summer school and open gyms, said Superintendent Hardy Murphy.
Library Director Mary Johns said she wanted to remind everyone that the Library offers a “safe, air-conditioned environment for the summer. For high schoolers and young adults there is The Loft. We have crafts, free movies, book discussions and retro-gaming.” To the startled expressions of many audience members, Ms. Johns said with a grin, “That’s board games.” In addition, a limited number of beach tokens will be available at the Library to be checked out on a weekly basis.
On the music scene, kids will be able to help choose music for some of the summer festivals.
While there will be entertainment and recreation opportunities, those who violate laws may face stiffer punishments. Chief Eddington said the Evanston Police Department has “engaged federal partners for the more violent crimes,” and violations of federal statutes often carry heavier sentences. The two primary agencies will be the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he said.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Officer Loyce Spells, “we all have a problem today.” Safety and security, he said, “don’t just happen. Every individual must be involved. … Crime exists in communities that permit or condone or allow it to exist.” The Evanston community, he said, owes it to the children to take responsibility. … You can tell kids, ‘I want you to live.’ … You can plant the seeds of non-violence. … We must provide our children what we owe them: peace and non-violence.”
For ETHS teacher Sharon Weeks, adviser to the ETHS NAACP group, the village that once was able to raise children has devolved into the mean streets of a neighborhood. “The village has changed,” said Ms. Weeks. “We don’t have those mamas and papas looking out for their kids. Gangs are people’s village and community. … People not living respectable lives are becoming the village.”
Asked if he has already seen any harbingers of a violent summer, Chief Eddington said that ongoing conflicts among groups of kids appear to continue. “The shooting at McDonald’s was a significant harbinger – and a catalyst to get [the summer programs] going. … There have always been drug transactions gone sour, but now we’re seeing disputes among youth not related to money or drugs.”
The City has set up a text-tip line, text-a-tip. Residents may text words, photos or videos to 274637, CRIMES.
Ninth Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus said she was “thrilled at the turnout and pleased with Officer Spells’s message. … It has to start in the home, with the parents. Until parents are involved, we will not have systemic change.”
District 202 School Board member Gretchen Livingston said, “I think this is an excellent start. There is no question that we have a lot of people in the community who care.” She also said that a major problem is “channeling the energy” and she hopes that additional programs will allow youth to “take ownership of them” [in design and implementation] and go beyond recreation and entertainment offerings.
More specific information about programs, times and locations will be posted on the City’s website, www.cityofevanston.org, as it becomes available. Notice of how to find that information will be posted on the RoundTable’s website, evanstonroundtable.com.