I am always mystified by how little we know about our neighbors — especially our neighbors on the east side of Austin Boulevard. This was recently reinforced when the author of an opinion piece characterized the Austin community as a "ghetto." [Stop whining about OP's taxes, Viewpoints, July 25]
He has a valid opinion. However, it is a one dimensional view — a stereotype in a village that abhors being stereotyped. The human beings who live in Chicago's Austin community are our neighbors. They work in our businesses, shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, buy fuel at our gas stations, ride the el to work, receive health care from our doctors and pharmacists, etc. Just like our neighbors in Forest Park and River Forrest.
The Austin community encompasses 7 square miles, which is about 60 percent larger than Oak Park. There are 98,000 residents in the Austin community. Oak Park has 51,000. Approximately 85% of our neighbors are African American. Twenty percent of Oak Park's citizens are African American. Austin's median household income is $33,000. Oak Park's is $73,000.
Our neighbors also live in a part of Chicago with a devastating level of violent crime. In the last 180 days, they have experienced almost 11,000 crimes — 999 of which were violent*. (Violent crime is defined as homicide, criminal sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and aggravated battery.) On average, 61 crimes are committed each day, with 5.5 being of a violent nature. Sadly, 18 were homicides.
The Austin community also has over 100 faith-based organizations, each filled with people trying to help each other. Clearly our neighbors are in a very bad situation.
Given what we know about the human beings on the other side of the street, what should be our response?
*Source: Chicago Police Department CLEARMAP Crime Summary reporting website, gis.chicagopolice.org
Gustavo O. De Leon Jr.