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The Evanston Police Department’s presentation on gangs and their associated violence has been making its way to several ward meetings.

Questions by residents at the joint meeting for the Fourth and Ninth wards on Sept. 10 for the most part concerned the harm and threats posed by gangs to the community overall and what residents could do to help address the problem.

At the Sept. 18 Fifth Ward meeting, however, the presentation appeared to hit a nerve. Few of the nearly 70 residents who attended the meeting did not speak out – against the police, against the presentation or against the violence that, some said, has continued too long in that community.

The ‘Timeline of Violence’

In addition to information about gangs, the presentation has a “Timeline of Violence 2005-2014,” listing nearly a dozen of the shootings and arrests in that period, weaving the names of an Evanston family the police have said is responsible for much of the violence.

Because the timeline of violence included only young minority males, many of them living in or shot in the Fifth Ward, some residents said they felt the presentation was racially motivated. Randy Roebuck said he felt the video presentation “targeted the Fifth Ward.”

“I am so embarrassed by this presentation,” said Carolyn Murray, whose son, Justin, was killed in November of 2012. She called it a “racist presentation” and encouraged others to speak out against it.

“You don’t have a gang problem, you have a gun problem. … You are dividing the City,” Ms. Murray said.

Betty Ester asked whether the presentation was “supposed to support the Evanston Police Department claim that there are two families [who are responsible for the violence]? If not, why did you bring up race? Why do you give the family’s names?” She also said some names had been omitted from the list.

She said she agreed with Ms. Murray that the presentation is “racially motivated.”

Deputy Chief Jeff Jamraz said, “This is supposed to be a timeline for the whole City.”

“Then that list should have been three pages long,” said Ms. Ester. “Kids have been killed and their murders have not been solved. What is the desired outcome of the presentation?”

“To give residents an overview of the violence in the City,” said Deputy Chief Jamraz.

In a separate interview, Evanston Police Commander Jason Parrott told the RoundTable the Police Department is “trying to show the public in a transparent way what is the root cause of violence in Evanston. … We can’t be afraid to talk about it, because that would indicate a sense of denial. And if there’s a sense of denial, there is an ineffectiveness in dealing with the problem.”

He added that, although he has no concrete explanation of why some names were omitted from the Timeline of Violence, the Police Department believes that the timeline and its “trail of names since 2005 shows that the retribution between the rival groups continues.” 

Police/Community Relations

Some residents recounted instances of police actions that they said targeted minorities.

Wanda Reed, who said she taught at Evanston Township High School for many years and later volunteered there, said, “I would like for people to be out and check more. … We have white kids, Mexican kids, black kids – watch them all. Nobody’s exempt. … Everybody in this community is doing the same thing.”

Saying she was speaking about the youth in the community, Madelyn Ducre said , “Don’t come on my block with a gun, thinking you’re going to settle something, because you’re going to go to jail or you’re going to get killed.” She also said, “There were some police officers who went after my children when I spoke out.”

Pastor Andy Speicher asked, “How is the Evanston Police Department working with the community?” He said he had one issue with the presentation, “Is there any white resident in the City of Evanston?”

One resident asked how the police determine that someone is a gang member.

“They identify themselves in social media as gang members,” said Fifth Wardd Alderman Delores Holmes. “Then we are embarrassed because we learn that our grandsons or nephews are in gangs,” she added.

Ald. Holmes said, “The reason that we had this presentation tonight is … we’ve heard rumors [about the presentation]. I wanted you to see it for yourselves and decide. We’ve got to be realistic. … What I wanted you to see is what people are seeing. This is going on – we do have a problem. The police can’t do it by themselves. If you’re not involved, maybe this will help you get involved.” She said she had invited the pastors of all the churches in the Fifth Ward to come to the meeting; six were in attendance.

Pastor George Dotson asked whether it is common for the police to get help from the community.

Deputy Chief Jamraz said, “We go door-to-door. We offer cash rewards. … We do get a lot of cooperation, but with violent crime, people don’t want to get involved, sometimes from fear of retaliation.”

Pastor Dotson said, “We cannot complain about the police department’s not solving crime if we have information and do not give it to them.

Pastor Patricia Efiom of Ebenezer Church said members of her congregation have been attacked at some of the funerals held for the young Evanston men who were killed. “African Americans committing crimes against African Americans. … My question is, ‘What are we in the Fifth Ward doing to each other?’ We are seeing ourselves reflected in the crimes. When are we going to take responsibility for what is happening?”

Bennett Johnson asked, “What does the Evanston Police Department intend to do about the … antagonism between the police and the community?”

Police Chief Richard Eddington responded, “I appreciate that this is a difficult topic. We – and particularly the neighborhood enforcement team – spend a considerable amount of time on guns and drugs. We have relationships with the folks at ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms); we work with the FBI.

“We do have a plan – we’re doing it now. Officer Wideman and Officer Holliman [the two beat officers for the area] are here to get to know you and help address the problem. We have two foot patrolmen and two Problem Solving Team officers. We have outreach workers. The goal is to make contacts.

“We are committed to the Ward, committed to the safety of the Ward. What we need is acceptance by the community – for you to say, ‘Violence isn’t acceptable.’ Think about what we’ve said. Consider helping us with this violence problem. If you don’t help us, it’s not going to get done.”

Alando Massie, building coordinator for Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, where Ald. Holmes regularly holds her Ward meetings, said, “We keep having these meetings. We have yet to have the people at these meetings who need to be here. We have to be held more accountable. … We are reacting but [that’s] no answer – we blame the police. Where are the people who are committing these crimes? … Meetings are only good at that time, and then we go home and lock the doors.”

The meeting was supposed to have ended at 8:30 p.m., but many residents remained until well after 9 p.m., talking with police officers or among themselves in smaller groups.

Ald. Holmes told the RoundTable, “There’s so much underlying [the speeches this evening] – that has never been dealt with. There are some things happening in families that are hard to deal with.”

Police Tactics and Equipment

The Evanston Police Department has several strategies, tactics and procedures, as well as hardware and software to address the gang problem here.

An armored car (a modified Brink’s truck) equipped with six cameras can be parked at a trouble spot. Police can watch live or review the tapes.

The department has joined the North Regional Crime Lab, which gives a quicker turnaround in identification of guns, drugs, DNA, etc. “What this means for us is that fingerprints can be matched faster and for us this means we can arrest them quicker, before they commit other crimes,” said Deputy Police Chief Jeff Jamraz.

With firearms processing/tracing, the police can find serial numbers, search for DNA, fume for fingerprints and search the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms database to get the history of a gun. They use the Integrated Ballistics Identification System to match the weapon to other incidents. Police have recovered 40 guns  from 31 locations since the beginning of 2014. Between 2009 and the beginning of 2014, the EPD recovered 328 firearms that were sold in other states.

A software program called Geofeedia can  zero in on a geographic area and collect social media postings during a specific time frame

The Evanston Police Department coordinates its efforts with the police departments of Des Plaines, Lincolnwood, Skokie and Chicago, said Evanston Police Detective Michael Andre.

Said, Kevin Brown, director of Youth and Young Adult Services for the City, “I think we have the best police chief we could have for the circumstances we are facing.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...