Four people were shot to death in Austin in last week. All that pain, all that loss, took place in just 24 hours.
The death closest to Oak Park, at North and Austin, made our Website late Wednesday afternoon. I don’t think it is going to make the paper today. Our Web item, about 100 words, doesn’t mention the victim’s name. The takeaway from our effort is that the shooting took place on the Chicago side of North Avenue and that Oak Park police quickly departed and left it to the Chicago cops to sort out.
It was almost a spillover murder, but not quite. Won’t turn up on Oak Park’s police log or crime statistics. It doesn’t capture our imagination or stoke our fears. Had a colleague tell me the next day that she’d been out talking to neighbors in her Galewood community and asked if they’d heard about the shooting death on North Avenue. “Where on North Avenue?” they asked. At Austin. Oh, they said, that’s in Austin. Not in Galewood.
In other words, we’re safe. Not our problem.
As someone who lives a block from Austin, I admire and share the ability of those Galewood neighbors to create a mental barrier even as the physical barrier is thin and thinner. I sit on my porch and watch the kids play in the evening. I hear the sirens on Austin and Washington, but I don’t worry. I watch the Oak Park squad cars prowling our alleys and I’m appreciative but seldom concerned.
Like you, I read the police reports in the Journal and am concerned over traumatizing bike thefts and am glad my daughter walks most places instead of riding the new bike we bought her last summer.
Now though, the local police reports are also carrying reports of a burst of armed robberies in my neighborhood, two just last week. That’s close to home. That’s putting the car in the garage so my wife, Mary, isn’t in the alley after dark.
At some point soon, Oak Park is going to have to renew its debate over our 24-year-old handgun ban, the Supreme Court has seen to that with its ruling on Washington, D.C.’s, ban. Around us, other suburban towns which banned handguns for peculiar reasons-think Laurie Dann’s murderous rampage in Winnetka two decades ago-have already walked away from this fight. Then again, Winnetka and Morton Grove have never faced the day-by-day handgun threat that Chicago faces, which, by proximity, Oak Park faces.
Richard Daley is going to fight until Anthony Scalia keels over dead to maintain Chicago’s handgun ban. Oak Park could engage in the same fight or try to find some bays and inlets in the Supreme Court’s action to maintain a semblance of a ban.
Truth is that with limited tools to work with, handgun bans are hard to walk away from. Truth is that it’s hard to find proof that handgun bans on such a local level do much good.
Is there another way? Is there another discussion we need to be having? One acknowledging that, whichever side of the definition of militia the current or future Supreme Court lands on, our cities have grave challenges that viciously play out in handgun warfare.
Do we have another two decades to spend on handgun control debates rather than sincerely engaging in a community-raising effort of expectations and support to fix families, to find a way for urban schools to really work, to focus job creation on the West Side of Chicago?
Our safety in Oak Park is both real and illusory. Our obligation to do more than just sit in relative safety is real and immediate.