'Volatile' Atmosphere Brings Unity After South Side Shooting
ENGLEWOOD — About 50 business leaders, clergy and community members filled the Englewood District police station Tuesday afternoon in an "emergency meeting" in response to the shooting death of Ronald Baskin, one of three people killed over the Mother's Day weekend.
Deputy Chief Leo Schmitz, who called Tuesday's meeting, described the neighborhood as "volatile" following the death of South Side community activist Hal Baskin's great-grandson Sunday afternoon.
Ronald Baskin's family, who watched as Baskin's vehicle was towed away, with him inside, got another scare that day when four teens thought to be carrying a gun ran from the scene, causing the crowd to duck for cover.
Tuesday's meeting was modeled after similar meetings last year when aspiring teen rappers Lil Jojo and JayLoud were gunned down in separate Englewood shootings. Schmitz said the community's participation reduced crime then and he hopes it will now.
"I wouldn't bring you guys in for an emergency meeting unless I needed your help — and I need your help now," Schmitz told the community leaders.
Two lists of current hotspots — one labeled East Englewood and the other labeled West Englewood — were brought out for residents to sign and pledge their time to patrol the streets in an effort to practice direct intervention.
Bishop Edward Peecher, of Chicago Embassy Church, said he's seen the effects of community intervention firsthand. He and Schmitz have a created a Twitter account — @steady7777 — aimed at starting conversations with at-risk teens and began walking the streets after Baskin's death to "get ahead of" any retaliation that might occur.
"We've done this before, especially when the need is critical," he said. "So I rolled up on a group of 14 young men and began talking to them about things that connected with them personally."
Peecher admits that "it's hard to prove why [retaliation] didn't happen," but said it's enough to know that "it didn't happen."
According to Liberation Christian Center Bishop James Dukes, Schmitz is credited with bringing various segments of the Englewood community together in his crime reduction efforts.
"He came in under a lot of pressure, so we want to rally around him," Dukes said. "[Schmitz] is out there, he's visible, and that gets right to the heart of the matter."
Schmitz, who took up office in Englewood in January 2012, was on hand when Dukes recently took up residence in an Englewood home following intense gang conflict. The deputy chief is frequently seen at crime scenes.
Michele Redd, executive director of Building Blocks Learning Academy, said the meeting was effective, but hopes the effort is "not just a function of an emergency."
"We can change the essence of the community by making a difference in these children's lives," Redd said.
Schmitz, who said that crime and shootings in the district are down about 50 percent since last year, took suggestions from the audience that included the start of a youth baseball league to the closing of liquor stores in the neighborhood before assigning blocks to those present.
"It's very important that we all hit it from different angles," he said. "I can't do it without your help, and, last time, you helped.