LaShawn Ford, the state rep from Oak Park and Austin, has taken his lumps for the idea that the National Guard ought to be called out to the West Side to put a lid on crime and violence ahead of the summer. The idea has been dismissed by the powers that be in Chicago – read Daley and his police superintendent. The idea has surfaced long, unhappy memories among black people on the West Side who recall the Guard arriving in their neighborhood during the riots of the late 1960s. And the idea was the latest blip on what passes for dialogue about urban issues on cable television and the blogs. Anderson Cooper, Huffington Post, Fox News have all contributed their expertise.

Had breakfast Monday with Ford, who has the expertise of living in Austin, getting the anguished phone calls from Austin, and raising a child in Austin.

How about we listen to him for a moment.

“We have got to stop this violence in some kind of way,” he says. “Everyday there are murders and killings on the West Side. People call our office every day looking for help.”

Ford says that as a state rep he doesn’t have much pull with city cops or the Daley administration. But the state constitution does allow the governor to call out the guard and so that is the route he pursued. And despite the abuse he has taken, he’s not sure it still won’t prove to be a solution in a moment the city says it’s short 2,000 cops because of the economy and that same economy keeps grinding in impoverished neighborhoods like Austin.

“This summer unemployment is going to be up,” says Ford. “There’ll be students without jobs. There won’t be any summer jobs. So there’ll be lots of hanging out on street corners. Crime is going to be high. There’ll be lots of robbing and selling drugs.”

The National Guard, he says, would provide a presence, coordinating with city cops to flood the 9 percent of city blocks that Superintendent Jody Weis has said are the real core of crime in Chicago. Ford knows many more of those tough blocks are in his neighborhood than in Bucktown or the Gold Coast.

He talks about the calming presence he believes police in Oak Park provide. “Oak Parkers take Chicago Avenue to get to the city,” he says. “I know they feel relief when they get back across Austin Boulevard. I don’t blame them.”

As a state rep serving both Oak Park and Austin he sees the differences and hopes for collaboration. “Oak Park is blessed to have other issues to worry about. You have meetings on green technology. Chicagoans can’t even get to the point. We’re looking to survive.”

LaShawn Ford taught school for many years in Austin, at St. Angela’s and in the CPS at John Hay Academy. He takes the wide view and the long view. Crime is high because the schools fail. Yet Austin, effectively does not have a public high school. Hasn’t in a decade. And in the decades before the legendary Austin High School was reconstituted as a batch of specialty schools with select admission policies, it was a grim and failed place.

Here he sees a project that Austin and Oak Park residents could coalesce around – getting a high school for Austin.

“If Oak Park and Austin could team up, work to get Austin a high school it would benefit Oak Park,” he said, pragmatically acknowledging issues of kids crossing the city line to attend Oak Park schools and of the property crimes that spill over from the West Side.

This is a non-politician politician. His plea for the National Guard was not intended to curry favor with City Hall, which felt shown up by his request. But his impulse, that this summer will be hot and hard on the West Side, is worthy of reflection from this side of the boulevard.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...