BACK OF THE YARDS — Gun violence is on the rise in Back of the Yards — and citywide — but residents of the South Side neighborhood say Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) missed the mark with a letter asking Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart for police help.
Dozens of those neighborhood residents gathered outside Back of the Yards High School Monday night and held a news conference to offer their concerns in front of television cameras.
"It has been said that this community is ridden with violence. It has been said that people don't care. It has been said that people are giving in to a culture of violence," said Marco Lopez, a Back of the Yards resident for the last two decades. "But give a big cheer if you agree with me that that is all inaccurate."
The crowd cheered.
"Yes, we have some problems. Yes, we have some challenges. We've experienced violence," Lopez said, "but this is a community that is not defined by those things. This is a community that is resilient."
In his letter to Dart (full letter below), Lopez wrote that he was "determined to change the culture in Back of the Yards away from one that normalizes violence and gives refuge to gang life" and requested the sheriff's office bring in a gang, vice and narcotics unit.
Seventy-one Back of the Yards residents signed a letter to DNAinfo slamming Lopez's comments. They especially took issue with Lopez claiming the neighborhood "culture" is somehow to blame for gang violence.
"[Lopez's] narrow-minded statement puts the full onus on the community and ignores systematic barriers to achieve peace in our community (i.e. poverty, lack of resources and development, decline of the surrounding industrial/manufacturing areas, the division into many political districts, effects of an unjust immigration system, etc.)," the letter reads. "Increasing law enforcement presence is a popular political response, but what real solutions has he proposed to address the underlying issues that create violence in our community? Simply put, a police state will not bring peace."
Monday's press conference included community leaders from the Pilsen Alliance, McKinley Park Progressives, U.N.I.O.N. Impact Center, neighbors from Brighton Park and Gage Park — and high school students from Back of the Yards.
“We want unity in our community,” said Rafael Yanez Jr., 17. “We want to bring people together.”
Giovanni Felix, 17, a junior at Richards Career Academy, said more police won't do anything to curb violence — unless police make an effort to improve their image on the streets.
“Most kids don’t have a really good relationship with cops,” Felix said.
A better solution, he said, would be more jobs and job training in the neighborhood.
Also in attendance at Monday's news conference were supporters of Ald. Ray Lopez.
"How many more people need to die?" Victor Velasquez, 28, said after the conference. "We're tired of seeing people killed."
The more police on the streets, the better, Velasquez said.
Back of the Yards has seen 27 shootings between January and March this year — a 107 percent jump over the 13 shootings that happened over the same period in 2015.
Read both letters here:
Ald. Lopez's letter to Sheriff Dart:
Back of the Yards residents' letter to DNAinfo:
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: