A neighborhood suggestion box and return of a gun buyback program were among the strategies named by residents at a virtual Fifth Ward meeting called July 28 to address the ward’s recent violence.
Some longtime residents expressed frustration that the ward was dealing with the problem again, recalling spikes in violence in the past.
“… Once again, we’re all sitting around the same room, giving our condolences and our thoughts and prayers and it sometimes makes me cringe to even say that,” said longtime ward resident Linnea Lattimore, “because it’s like ‘Here we go again.’”
Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons called for the meeting after a week in which three homicides occurred in the City within four days, including two over the past weekend in her west side Fifth Ward.
In the first incident, Deashawn Turner, 21, was shot and killed just after midnight, Saturday, July 25, while in his residence in the 2200 block of Emerson Street.
The following day, Sunday, July 26, Andrew Williams, 29, was shot and killed in the 1900 block of Hartrey Avenue while at a cookout with family members to celebrate his 30th birthday, which was the next day.
In addition to the homicides, police responded to as many as four shots-fired incidents in the neighborhoods surrounding the residences , in a weekend that left residents feeling “traumatized,” said the alderman.
At the virtual meeting Tuesday, July 28, at which an estimated 50-100 people signed up, residents mixed suggestions to increase community presence and involvement with expressions of frustration that violence had returned again.
One of the speakers, Michel’le, suggested one way to spur ideas would be to establish a neighborhood suggestion box. She volunteered to kick off the program on a Saturday in one of the parks, where “basically some community members could put their notes in the box, and “just give us ideas where we want to go from here –whether we want to have rallies and marches, or a conversation.”
Tina Paden, a longtime Evanston resident, spoke of the importance of listening, maintaining that officials dismissed the concerns she raised about rampant fireworks going off in the area.
“And it’s very important,” she stressed. “The fireworks were uncontrollable. Even as of last Saturday, I was in the Fifth Ward on Simpson and Dodge, and fireworks were still going off. So the people doing the fireworks – I’m not saying they were involved in any of the shooting incidents – but if you can get away with something as simple as fireworks, what makes you think you can’t get away with gunfire,” she asked.
Carolyn Murray, who lost her son Justin during a similar escalation of gun violence in 2012, asked about the status of a gun buyback program, which she had instituted in the wake of her son’s death.
Ms. Murray said she had conversations earlier with Chief Demitrous Cook about instituting the program, and no one in the Police Department was able to fix a date because of the social distancing requirements in place because of COVID-19.
In a gun buyback, “we don’t get all the guns. We might get some of the guns that will be used by potential shooters,” she said, “but it is a community response to let them know, to send a message that we are at least trying to be effective and we support you and we hear you,” she told the alderman.
“You know we tell our high school graduates when they’re done with school, go to college, but then we don’t offer them anything when they’re done with college,” Ms. Lattimore noted.
“I know Ms. Simmons had mentioned [the community establishing a] positive presence,” she said. “What does that look like, when does that start, how can we get involved?” she asked.
Another speaker, Moika, who said she was a resident of 50-plus years, recalled shootings “got really bad in the 80s, and then quieted down, and now it’s getting bad again,” she said. “I think part of it is also our culture has changed,” she said. “We’re basically letting the kids go – you now, we’re letting the nuts run the nut house. We’re letting the kids say, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do. You can’t stop me.’”
Jeff Masters, a resident of the ward for 14 years, suggested the community draw the line.
“I think we need as a community to figure out How do we come together and say, ‘This is what we stand for in our community. This is acceptable. This is not acceptable.’”
Brenda Grier, also born and raised in Evanston, argued focus needs to go on a problem “going on for years” and involving feuding families.
“I have been dealing with my family members to try to solve this problem,” she said. “Evanston police work very well with the Evanston community. They have worked well with us, with my family on this problem.
“But there is going to need to be intervention,” she said. “We’re going to need pull social workers and other types of organizations and people now,” she said. Defunding is not the answer, she said.
Carlis Sutton, long active in community affairs, raised a concern that the recent violence was “being associated as gang-related and family feuds. If we’re able to make an association or to identify this violence spike as gang-related,” he said, “we should be able to identify the individuals that are making this kind of community unsafe.”
Officials participating in the meeting, which included the mayor, several other aldermen and State Senator Laura Fine (D-17th), pledged support.
“I’ve been using this term during the pandemic and I just want to mention it here tonight,” said Mayor Stephen Hagerty. “Our success against the pandemic is a whole community response and recovery. It’s no different with violence, as we saw this weekend. It’s going to take a whole community response.”
Ald. Simmons expanded on that point.
“We all need to be thoughtful and conscious and forward thinking and pro-active,” she said. “We need to consider the violence that is in our neighborhood as if it were in any other community in Evanston and how we might be responding to that and the level of urgency we might we have, if there were homicides happening in the at the lakefront or in the downtown area. So my ask is: This is owned as an Evanston wide issue and that we work together on solutions.”