October 31, 2008

Fifth ward meeting probes after-school activities, South Side crime

The setting for Alderman Leslie Hairston’s monthly community meeting evoked the neighborhood concerns and aspirations discussed when locals gathered Tuesday night at Gary Comer College Prep. The building is home to a rapidly expanding high school with plans for ambitious after-school programming to help mitigate student crime. But indicative of persistent concerns over local violence, the building’s windows are made of bulletproof glass.

The meeting for the fifth ward, which encompasses much of Hyde Park, focused on increasing opportunities for South Side youth as well as ways that the community is targeting local crime. According to Hairston, a main concern in the area is the amount of crime committed by school-aged students during after-school hours.

To target this trend, Hairston advocated programs such as Citywide, an after-school sports program that promotes positive interactions between students and police. She also highlighted an initiative led by tennis fans who noticed how infrequently the local courts are used, aimed at turning court spaces into enclosed areas for youth programming.

Hairston also detailed how the community is addressing local crime. The alarming number of recent South Side shootings have prompted events called roll calls and super roll calls for the period after shootings, the alderman said.

At roll calls, community members gather on what they deem to be at-risk blocks and intersections with a parade of police cars in toe, aiming to send a message to local gangs that the community is opposed to gang violence and that the police are present and responsive. Super roll calls are citywide and often involve police helicopters above areas where crime rates are high. Hairston urged attendees to tolerate the winter climates and attend roll calls.