Amid Chicago violence, violent crime drops in Evanston

Susan Du

During the weekend of March 17 and 18, a six-year-old girl was gunned down in front of her home in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune. Another victim, a 19-year-old man, was shot from a car in the 6300 block of North Oakley Avenue – only about 5 minutes by car away from Howard Street. There were 11 other incidents, some gang-related, across Chicago that weekend.

Evanston Police said although such gun-related crimes are typically connected to gang activity, this recent outbreak of violence in Chicago is a sobering reminder to local community leaders that Evanston isn’t exempt from the influence of street gangs.

Late last month, Evanston Police Department officers uncovered gang-related graffiti at Smith Park, 1725 Ashland Ave. The graffiti included symbols and the words “GDN” and “Vice Lord,” presumably in reference to Chicago-based rival gangs Gangster Disciple Nation and the Almighty Vice Lord Nation, said EPD Cmdr. Jay Parrott.

In fall 2011, a federal investigation into the activity of the Belizean Bloods street gang in Chicago and Evanston led to the arrests of two dozen members.

“Evanston has had a reputation of street gangs for quite some time, but nowhere near the extent Chicago has,” Parrott said. “We find now that within these organizations there are smaller factions that are related to those street gangs but sometimes have a subgroup name.”

These local street gangs’ primary business involves the sale of narcotics, he added.

Parrott said although Evanston does have a gang presence, there was a 23 percent reduction in violent crimes in 2012 to date compared to the same period last year. This local decrease in crime can be attributed to an increase in police presence in areas where crime is often reported, he said.

Deputy city manager Joseph McRae agreed EPD should receive due credit for deploying its resources efficiently. The entire Evanston community also has a responsibility to discourage gang involvement, McRae added.

“I think it’s always necessary for the community to reach out to these young people, try to reach them where they are, try to give them alternatives to gangs,” McRae said. “Our population from 18 to 26, they’re looking for employment and they’re looking for jobs, so we try to give them opportunities that are skill-training, vocational, opportunities to get internships that lead to gainful employment.”

McRae said the city’s work on youth outreach has resulted in a variety of employment, mentoring and recreational after-school programs. The upcoming Youth Job Fair, to be held April 21, will match Evanston youth with employment at local businesses.

“We’re doing what we can,” he added.

Other local groups focused on crime prevention said eradicating gang activity in Evanston starts with prevention, continues with intervention and ends with restoration.

Joey Rodger, founder of local peace advocacy organization Peaceable Cities: Evanston, said her goal is to create community conversations that let people understand there are solutions to their problems, and to help people escape from undesirable situations.

“It is necessary for the community to help facilitate opportunities for gainful employment in order to end the cycle of poverty and crime for individuals repeatedly incarcerated as a result of gang involvement,” Rodger said.

“I have an enormous amount of respect for our police department to be doing the right thing on this,” Rodger added. “We’re always working on how to bring people back into the community in ways that are safe and productive for them.”

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