Uptown residents pack meeting to address crime

A frustrated crowd of Uptown residents packed the Truman College cafeteria yesterday to address the problem of crime in the area, where a series of drive-by shootings and the May 21 shooting death of a college student have left the neighborhood on edge.

The 120 chairs set up weren't enough for the approximately 400 residents, and partitions set up to define the space had to be pushed aside.

Addressing the meeting was a panel that included State Rep. Gregory Harris (D-13), State Sen. Heather Steans (D-7),  Chicago Police Commander Kathleen Boehmer of the 23rd District, Deputy Chief Bruce Rottner of Area 3 Patrol, Deputy Superintendent Beatrice Cuello of the Bureau of Patrol, and Tactical Lt. Robert Stasch of the 23rd District.

The meeting was organized to address concerns in the wake of a disturbing upsurge of crime in the area, including the May 21 murder of Truman College student Francis Oduro, 22, who was shot to death while walking on the sidewalk in the 4500 block of N. Broadway.

According to Harris, the problems have been the topic of concern at a series of recent smaller gatherings, including CAPS and block club meetings, and organizers wanted to address the topic at a forum where everyone could gather.

Following brief opening remarks, the panel listened for two hours as 40 residents stepped up to outline their concerns.

Many of those who attended were building managers, and almost everyone who addressed the panel spoke of having witnessed gunfire in the neighborhood.

According to Boehmer, three gangs are active in the area.

But gunfire and gang activity weren't the only issues. As Uptown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Christie Hahn put it, businesses can no longer put up with the "everyday harassment" of their patrons that included public drinking, pot smoking, urination, and panhandling. 

These were categorized by several speakers as "quality of life" issues. One woman told of the harrowing incident of her daughter running over a homeless man while backing out of her garage.

Molly Phelan, the Buena Park CAPS liaison, drew loud applause when she demanded that someone "take a leadership role" in addressing the problems.

The loudest applause of the night came when a man turned to Alderman Helen Shiller, (D-46) who was seated in the audience, and asked why she was seated there rather than on the dais with the panel.Thunderous response drowned out the rest of his remarks, exposing an undercurrent of frustration with the alderman's office. One speaker was  booed when she attempted to defend Shiller.

Shiller did not respond to the complaints during the meeting.

There were practical suggestions made, including more cameras and more police on foot patrol. Several people spoke of compassion for youth who have no jobs or structure, and of the need for more people to be involved in community organizations.

Deputy Chief Rottner asked for a show of hands of how many people knew the name of the police officer on their beat, and stressed attending CAPS meetings.

Harris ended the meeting by promising it would be the first of several.