Educating people of all ages would be the most efficient way to curb violence on Chicago’s Southside, according to Ald. Carrie Austin.
“We’re trying to work at the core of why our areas are so violent now,” said Austin, 34th Ward alderman and chairwoman of the city council’s budget committee. Austin, 61, talked with a Columbia College journalism class Monday morning.
“We have to teach them a different way of having to react; that’s education,” said Austin about the young people in her ward.
The 34th Ward gained national attention in September 2009 after the beating death of a Fenger High School student was caught on a cell phone camera. Austin said the incident was not related to Fenger.
Apathy is a major cause of violence in the 34th Ward because the only future the children see for themselves is in drug trafficking and gang activity, Austin said.
“When you try to tell a young man who is pushing drugs [to] earn an honest dollar, what do they tell you? ‘I make more in a day than I can in a whole entire honest week,’” she said. “How do you get that individual away from that kind of mind set?”
According to Austin, the school system is in place to turn youth away from drugs and street violence. She said she works closely with the school principals of the 34th Ward to ensure they have everything necessary to educate their students.
Education should not stop with children, she added.
“Most of the young people that we target have not always had a good upbringing. That’s education of the parents,” said Austin. “You can’t put all the blame on the child.”
Austin said parents need to be taught how to raise their children properly.
A mother of seven, Austin grew up across the street from the Cabrini Green housing projects and attended Chicago public schools on the near North Side of Chicago.
“I’ve been on the South Side longer than I’ve been on the North Side, but my roots come from the north,” said Austin. She said she has lived in the 34th Ward for 40 years.
Austin said she never planned to be an alderman, but fell into the job after the death of her husband, Lemuel Austin, who was alderman at the time of his death in 1994. She had served as ward secretary under her husband.
Austin began her political career in 1971 as an election judge. She was appointed chairman of the Budget and Government Operations Committee by Mayor Richard Daley in May 2007.
Looking toward the mayor’s race, Austin said she was “devastated” when Daley announced last month that he would not run for a seventh term. “I had the rug pulled out from under me when I heard the announcement,” she said. “I feel [Daley] is sympathetic to the city and knows its heartbeat.”
She added that Daley is “not perfect,” but everyone is “subject to mistakes.”
Austin questioned whether mayoral contender Rahm Emanuel has an existing network of support in Chicago. She praised Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart for his handling of the Burr Oak Cemetery, where employees were caught selling grave sites and removing the remains of people buried there without the knowledge of their family members.
Austin attended DePaul University and said she was “a breath away from becoming a dietician” but had to leave school to take care of her children.
“My intent was to be the best mother, the best wife that I could be,” said Austin. She said she raised her seven children “pretty much by myself.” She has 28 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Austin said she was very proud to see the opening in June of the Marshfield Plaza Mall on the city’s far South Side.
One of her aides, who declined to give her full name, called Austin a “strong advocate for her community. She has fought hard for the economic engine of her community. She’s a uniter.”