Brighton Park neighbors want mayor to act on violence 'spike'

Senator Martin Sandoval makes a point at Monday's rally. Among other things, he criticized Mayor Emanuel for spending millions on downtown amenities related to tourism, including "hipster bike parks."

A group of about 60 Brighton Park residents and others rallied at Kelly Park earlier this week to demand that Mayor Rahm Emanuel take action to address what they called a recent spike in violent crime in the neighborhood.

The rally was organized by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. Several elected officials were on hand to show support, including Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-7th) and State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-11th).

BPNC Director of Community Partnership Sara Reschly said, "The community is reeling from a spate of six shootings that occurred within 48 hours this pas weekend. Six shooting within two days is a wake-up call that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's current strategy is not working. It is not working because he has not involved the community in creating the strategy, and he has put very little money into funding violence prevention programs. These shooting are not inevitable. We can stop them, and we know how to stop them, but we need resources to do it, and Mayor Emanuel can make that happen."

When asked by the Archer Journal News for specifics on the six shootings, a BPNC spokesperson released a list of incidents that included four shootings in Brighton Park, two in Back of the Yards and one in Gage Park, along with an incident in which shots were reportedly fired near 43rd and Rockwell, but no one was hit.

BPNC officials claimed that cuts to public education threaten to undermine the work being done in neighborhood schools to provide students and their families with necessary supports. Kelly High School freshman Michelle Leon said, "Since the budget cuts, I have witnessed a lack of motivation. Not having these resources are making students feel as if no one cares for them and they should just give up. Kelly is likely to lose over $4 million next year. How do you think this is going to turn out? It's not going to be an improvement.

"The mayor has done nothing," she continued. "He would rather focus on unnecessary things like making downtown pretty than on making sure education is a priority. That's why we, the Southwest Side are demanding... a meeting with the mayor to resolve this situation."

The Brighton Park Neighborhood Council noted that it has a Summer Violence Prevention Plan that includes warm-weather programming that ranges from dance and cooking classes to academic tutoring for adults and youth at five schools in Brighton Park, Playstreets events throughout the community, Freshman Connection at Kelly School, the Leaders of Tomorrow program with funding from Cook County Justice Advisory Council and One Summer Chicago.

The initiatives are successful, according to a BPNC press release that did not explain how it measures success. However, BPNC officials added, more resource are needed to reach students in crisis. The group at the rally called for a "progressive revenue solution to the budget crisis that would fund more violence prevention programs and avoid budget cuts to public education."

Sandoval pointedly criticized the mayor, Cardenas and 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez for what he described as a failure to do enough to prevent what he called "these mass shootings on the Southwest Side."

"It's not enough for [Lopez] to call upon other bodies of government, like the Cook County Sheriff... to come in and take care of their responsibility." He called upon Cardenas and Lopez to work with Emanuel to fully fund after-school programs and violence prevention programs. He also insisted that Chicago hire 2,000 more police officers this year. He did not indicate where the funding to do that would or should com from, but seemed to imply that the millions of dollars spent on tourist-related amenities in and around the Loop could and should be used instead to help neighborhoods.

Sandoval also called upon the Chicago Park District to waive summer program fees for indigent families, saying the fees charged make the programs inaccessible to people limited means.

Sandoval's remarks were applauded by most of the people at the event.

An Archer Journal News request for comment from Emanuel's office went unanswered this week.