Humboldt Park residents hopeful despite recent violence

June 16, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Three shootings took place this week on one West Humboldt Park block. Two resulted in fatalities.

Violence in the area is nothing new, but residents and police usually see more of it during the Puerto Rican Festival, which is going on this week.

For years, several community activists have been working hard to keep their blocks safe.

Humboldt Park occupies 207 acres of green space west of downtown. While families feel safe in the park, many worry about the gang-ridden blocks nearby.

Deborah Ward walks her dog once a day on a street where the three shootings occurred.

"Of course I'm worried, always have been, yes, it's scary," she said.

In the past three years, there have been over 90 homicides in the Humboldt Park and West Humboldt areas. Residents here expect shootings to escalate during the summer months.

Community activist Maggie Martinez, of the Block Club Federation, has watched generations of gangs during the 46 years she has lived in the area.

"We have to remember that it's somebody's child and that child was not a gangbanger when he was born. What happened in the years that he was growing up? What happened in the school system with those kids? What happened in society? What happened in the churches?" Martinez said.

Martinez has spent a lifetime working with the youth developing programs to give kids something to do. She says the city needs to provide more programs as well.

"Locking them up is not the answer. We got to find a positive ways of working with these young people. Because otherwise we will have an invested city every year and more and more the gangs will just keep growing," she said.

Kurt Gippert says he has pushed the gangs out of his block. The founder of United Blocks of West Humboldt Park, Gippert spearheaded an effort to vote his precinct dry so the corner liquor store would be forced to shut down.

"This isn't anti-liquor. It's just that the liquor store that was a problem for five or six years is a locus of criminal activity," said Gippert.

Despite the violence this week, Gippert and Martinez refuse to give up on Humboldt Park.

"There is always hope," said Martinez.

"Every day, you work a little harder, you get more people involved, you band together , the good people are banding together and we are just trying to have a good quality of life. That is what you do, you just keep trying," said Gippert.

Gippert says the key to fighting violence is doing it block by block, he and others say more police on the streets would help as well.

While there have been over 90 homicides in the three past years in the Humboldt Park area, CeaseFire says the rate actually dropped this year. So, 2008 and 2009 were statistically more violent years.

Aderman Emma Mitts of the 37th Ward will hold a community meeting on June 24.

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