In many ways, the was the City of Evanston officially saying to the local community: “We cannot tackle this problem of violence without your help.”
, billed as a conference for “generating effective solutions to the increasing presence of neighborhood violence,” drew a crowd of over 100 community organizers, nonprofit representatives, city officials and concerned residents to the Levy Senior Center Saturday morning.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl opened the event by impressing that only through a truly collaborative effort could the city stop a of and .
“This is a community effort and we are taking this very seriously,” Tisdahl said. “All of our speakers have wonderful plans and ideas, but it’s not enough. It takes individual volunteers, families, neighbors, not-for-profits, the schools, teenagers, people in their 20s, the city and the faith community. It takes all of us to keep our children safe.”
Speaking with similar sentiments, Sharon Weeks, faculty sponsor for the , delivered a passionate talk about how Evanston’s crime-ridden communities must police themselves and reclaim their neighborhoods by creating standards and a codes to live by.
“We are tired of looking for superman,” Weeks said. “When I grew up, when I got home, if I misbehaved in school, there was a lady who lived on the corner who already knew the misdeed I’d done in school, and by the time I hit that block she was waiting at her front door. … There was a village that surrounded me. But the village has changed. … Gangs are people’s village.”
During a brainstorming session following a series of addresses from various city officials, meeting goers were asked to collaborate in small groups and devise innovative solutions to keeping Evanston’s youth from falling into the traps of gangs, drugs, and violence.
Joe McRae, of the City of Evanston’s Mayor’s Task Force, said attendees were also asked to make commitments, writing down one or several promised actions to help achieve the meeting’s stated goal.
“We’re not only going to follow up with them, we’re going to hold them to that commitment that they made,” McRae said, “and make sure that when they put on that program, if [the city] can be a resource in any form, that we can help them with that. And we’re going to make sure we get that information about the programs and events in the hands of the children who need to be there.”
McRae said the commitments would be compiled and analyzed, and that the information would be used to create a comprehensive plan of action that fully utilized all of Evanston’s resources.
Craige Christensen, violence prevention coordinator for the YWCA, said that she thought many of the activities people suggested in her brainstorming sessions were already up and running across the city, but that a lack of communication left residents uninformed of existing options.
But community policing and youth activities can only go so far, said Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington, and some of the city’s older and more hardened criminals simply need to be locked up for longer, as well.
With such a goal in mind, the Evanston Police Department has teamed up with federal forces to target local gun dealers and drug traffickers.
“[The federal forces] bring a wealth of things to the community that we don’t readily have,” Eddington said. “Two things that I really like are technology and money. At the federal level they can do overhears [audio monitoring] like we do search warrants. And with federal guidelines, the sentences run about 85 percent of the time sentenced. That’s not the case at the state level.”
Eddington said the local department has been partnering with federal authorities for a couple of years.
Ideas for violence reduction that came out of the small-group brainstorming sessions included offering summer dances, organizing local music and poetry jam sessions, increasing the number of long-term internships with local businesses, teaching de-escalation techniques to youths, more frequently engaging at-risk youth in conversation, and increasing police presence on certain street corners.