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Hundreds pack into Boystown violence forum
Posted July 7, 2011
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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In the midst of a community uproar over violent crime in Lakeview, the much-anticipated July 6 CAPS 2324 and 2331 meeting, drew nearly 800 people and a debate so heated that it often turned into a screaming match across auditorium aisles.

Nearly everyone who attended the meeting seemed to leave the Inter-American Magnet School, 851 W. Waveland, bleary-eyed and exhausted hours later.

The CAPS ( Community Alternative Policing Strategy ) meeting, which is held regularly, was widely attended due to a string of recent violent attacks that have increasingly concerned residents who say that the neighborhood is unsafe. The most recent attack, a July 3 stabbing, drew national attention because it was caught on video.

Residents called on 23rd Dist. Commander Kathleen Boehmer and 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney to address what they said was a rise in crime.

"Boystown is a danger zone," said Kevin O'Brien, a Lakeview resident, who also chastised Boehmer and Tunney for what he called an inadequate public response to the issues.

Several other residents, including Tunney himself, told stories about how they had been victims of crime in the neighborhood in recent years.

Tunney started the night by reading a statement he released earlier in the day, confirming his request for a special police "entertainment detail" for the neighborhood.

"I firmly believe that because we are an entertainment destination, it is important that the police districts serving the 44th Ward have the number of officers assigned to them appropriate to the influx of people we see daily and nightly, not just geared to the number of residents," Tunney said. "It is unrealistic to expect beat officers to cover areas where there are high concentrations of entertainment and hospitality venues."

But also in attendance were several queer youth who claimed that the organized response to crime in the neighborhood was unfairly scapegoating them for the attacks. The "Take Back Boystown" Facebook page, which has drawn attention to community fear about crime, has also served as a space where people aired frustrations about LGBT youth who come to the neighborhood for social services. Some on that page blamed queer youth for noise and violence in the neighborhood, setting off a community discussion about race.

One man who spoke at the meeting said that some youth who come to the neighborhood are perpetrating violence. "Sometimes people just need to be told how to act in this neighborhood," he said.

Organizers from LGBT youth organization Gender JUST charged that response efforts around crime in Lakeview will result in increased racial profiling of youth.

"What are you taking back?" asked Joshua McCool, at a Gender JUST press conference before the event. "You own Boystown. There are no spaces for queer youth of color."

McCool argued that white Cubs fans are given leeway when drunk and out of control, but that youth of color are implicated as a whole when one youth does something wrong. He also argued that Lakeview was one of the lowest-crime areas in the city and asked why more was not being done for other communities.

Gender JUST protested a recent "positive loitering" walk organized by the same residents who organized massive turnout at the CAPS meeting. The group has since taken heat from "Take Back Boystown" activists who say that they are distracting from solutions to crime.

Gender JUST youth were not the only ones present in protest of recent conversations. Older community members as well youth who access services at Broadway Youth Center also came to speak their disapproval, many of them arguing that the conversation had become racist.

Organizers of the meeting distributed 200 signs that read "Diversity is Welcome. Crime is Not."

When young people argued that those organizers were being racist, many people held up the signs.

"It's not a race issue," said one man who received a standing ovation. "It's a behavioral issue."

Many agreed and said they felt the meeting should be addressing stabbings and muggings that have occurred over the weekend, not race issues.

A young man stepped up to the mic and told the crowd he was homeless, and someone yelled "get a job" back at him. Another young speaker advocated putting less money into extra police on Halsted and more money towards homeless shelters and schools and a man shouted back "we spent $30 million to put the Center on Halsted."

One young transgender woman claimed the behavior problems went both ways. "There's a reason why the youth are lashing at everybody," she said. "Because you all look down on us."

At times, the conversation became so strained that people were jumping out of their chairs and screaming across the auditorium. Several people were booed away from the mic, and police on hand stepped forward repeatedly to beg civility from the room.

Tensions between Lakeview residents and visiting youth are hardly new. Residents raised similar issues at a 2009 neighborhood CAPS meeting that drew approximately 200 people. Additionally, both Boehmer and Tunney fielded a mixture of anger and praise from residents over their responses to crime.

Complaints about loitering youth in the neighborhood date back decades, but in recent years, many residents have pointed a finger at the Center on Halsted, which opened in 2007.

Just a few days after the "Take Back Boystown" Facebook page was created, another page called "Center on Halsted FAIL" surfaced. That page advocates the discontinuation of youth services at the Center because, its description argues, those services bring "displaced youth from troubled backgrounds into the community" and does not mentor them.

Very few advocated the end of youth services at the Center, but comments about the number of visitors to the neighborhood from the South and West sides of the city for youth services underscored sentiments that some youth are disrespectful guests.

Still, others argued that the city had failed to provide LGBT youth services in other parts of the city, and that young people without other resources were being forced into a neighborhood hostile to them.

Aisha Truss, a well-known LGBT youth advocate and Lakeview resident, said that the real problem causing violence was economic injustice. "I am ashamed of being a Chicagoan right now because of the way people are disrespecting young people," she said. Truss was eventually drowned out by boos and ushered off stage.

Boos came from all sides, however. After the meeting, several residents expressed frustration over what they said was a hijacking of the meeting by Gender JUST.

"They have a specific agenda," said Christopher Urban, a Lincoln Park residents who lives on the border of Lakeview. "They wanted to put out a message of social economic injustice … but the point of the CAPS meeting was specifically for addressing crime and public safety in the Lakeview entertainment district."

Urban however, said he walked away from the meeting feeling optimistic. He thinks that the meeting will prompt many older LGBT people to volunteer in local youth programs and address youth issues as part of the response to crime.

Rob Sall, the activist who created the "Take Back Boystown" page and shot the video of the stabbing, said the meeting was a positive start despite frustrations. "I think that everybody in the room understands the points that Gender JUST was making," he said. "But the purpose of the CAPS meeting was to address crime, not to fix the problems of the world."

Still, official organizers of the meeting and Gender JUST seemed to miss each other on a few key issues. While many residents said they wanted more police to protect the entire community including youth, Gender JUST has historically campaigned against the police, advocating for alternative strategies to violence. Also, while a few did complain that the Center on Halsted was attracting trouble to the neighborhood, Gender JUST also doesn't support the Center because it claims that it is unwelcoming to youth.

The divide signaled a difference in values between many in the room. As a result, many who stepped up to the mic seemed to be having disparate conversations about the very definitions of community and safety. Few suggestions that seemed palatable to all arose.

Facebook comments on the "Take Back Boystown" page suggest that residents concerned about safety in the neighborhood left feeling that many of their issues had not been addressed at all, while comments from young activists suggested that they found the community's response to them disheartening.

Boehmer reasserted her belief that crime is not on the rise in Lakeview, but said that there was an uptick in robberies since June.

Suggestions at the meeting have led police to look into a few small-scale solutions to crime, which they say will be addressed at another meeting to be scheduled soon. Those solutions include call boxes, more youth programs, peace walks, and a greater number of police bike patrols.

On hand at the meeting was also 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman. Cappleman did not speak extensively at the CAPS meeting but told Windy City Times that residents in his ward are preparing a report on five crime "hot spots" in the neighborhood, the worst of which he said remains Wilson and Broadway. Cappleman said that he will be working on bringing more businesses with unobstructed windows to the area, which has been shown to cut down on crime.

Cappleman also said that he is committed to working with a diversity of people on making the ward safer. "I believe that if we're going to go forward in this, we have to focus on our shared values," he said. "And our shared values are safety for all."

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