Hundreds of people packed into a community meeting tonight to discuss recent violence in Chicago's Boystown area, highlighted by the widely publicized stabbing of a 25-year-old man on Sunday.
About 600 people attended the contentious Community Alternative Policing Strategy meeting at the Inter-American Elementary Magnet School in theLakeview neighborhood, many holding signs reading, "Diversity is welcome, crime is not."
The root of the crime, however, was hotly debated.
Some residents said Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youths loitering in the area make community members feel unsafe, and they called for increased police protection. Others said that residents and business owners are prejudiced against minority youth who seek safe haven and resources in Boystown, which has a large population of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.
"They're talking about LGBT youths of color and calling them gangs," said Cerese Depeardieu, 29, of the Hyde Park neighborhood. "On Facebook, they've been calling them animals and savages. It indicates that we can't gather together and come to a gay neighborhood."
Dozens of people addressed the audience in public comments that often turned into bitter arguments and standoffs. Nearly every comment was met with a mixture of vociferous support and bitter rejection.
When one young man lamented a lack of resources for LGBT youths in the neighborhood, another man shouted at him in frustration.
"We just spent $30 million on the Center on Halsted!" he said to raucous cheers.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) reiterated his Tuesday statement that he was exploring how to increase police presence in the neighborhood, which included proposing an “entertainment detail” to help beat officers.
But as the long line of people waiting to speak marched toward the microphone stand, the debate reached no consensus. Some people encouraged the audience to be more involved in community safety while others simply pleaded for civil discussion.
"I'm ashamed to be a Chicagoan right now because the way you're treating people and how you're disrespecting the young people coming up here," one woman shouted.
"Boystown is a place for everyone," said Joe Marabotti, 26, of the Ravenswood neighborhood. "I remember coming here before I was 21. We didn't go to bars but we also didn't cause trouble."
Police praised some of the proposed solutions -- including emergency call boxes -- and said they’d like to continue the discussion at a later date. The next CAPS meeting is scheduled for August 3.
Still, the deadlock among the crowd members persisted. When one speaker asked people to turn and greet the person next to them in a show of solidarity, few complied; most laughed mockingly.
“I feel like nothing is ever going to get accomplished at a CAPS meeting,” said Sam Finkelstein, an organizer with Gender JUST, an advocacy group for LGBT youths of color. “The whole premise of this meeting is that people aren’t listening to each other. I feel like it made it more explosive. It’s frustrating.”Copyright © 2015, RedEye