Oak Park mayor recalls childhood experience in talk about Chicago gun violence

The mayor of the Village of Oak Park spoke against gun violence, citing his own childhood growing up in a conflict-ridden part of the world, at a summit on July 9 at the By the Hand Club for Kids on Chicago’s West Side.

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, whose 1st District includes Chicago’s West Side and Oak Park, brought government officials and the public together to work on policies that protect all citizens.

It’s one of the most violence communities, with more than 900 crimes happened in the West Side neighborhood of Austin in June. Almost a quarter of them were violent crimes, making Austin the 11th– most violent community in Chicago last month, according to the Crime in Chicagoland report .

Anan Abu-Taleb, mayor of Oak Park, just west of Chicago,  gave opening remarks at the endangered population summit in Austin.

“We are your neighbors,” Abu-Taleb began his speech. “A strong West Side is the best thing that can happen to our village.”

Born in the Gaza Strip, a conflict zone in the Middle East between Israel and Egypt, Abu-Taleb said he grew up in an area that “was full of fear and violence.”  He recounted an instance when his family was under military control in 1967.

“It’s dark. The doors are locked. The windows are shut. It’s quiet. And suddenly, I hear a gun shot,” Abu-Taleb said. “And another, and another.”

He then recounted the questions that obsessed him when he was 7 years old.

“Who were the victims? Who was the victim this time?” Abu-Taleb said. “Did the victim die immediately? Or were they left to bleed to death?”

Abu-Taleb cleared his throat, asked more questions and said that there are no clear answers to children when they hear gunshots or witness violence.

“One thing that is clear, those who have guns, those who create violence, they create chaos and uncertainties. This chaos has been going on for too long,” said Abu-Taleb, referring to both Gaza and Chicago.

More than 17,000 people at and under the age of 17 were arrested in Chicago in 2014, and almost 80 percent of them were African-Americans , according to the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project.

“When you are scared to go outside … when you are parents but can’t protect,” said Abu-Taleb, a parent of four children, his voice breaking with emotion.

He paused, composed himself and continued. “When you are a parent but can’t protect or provide for your child. When you are just as afraid of the law enforcers as you are of the law breakers, and when you live day-to-day and consider yourself lucky because we have just survived, the future is not on your mind.”

He concluded his speech by asking people to stand against “those who control with fear and gun violence” in all communities.

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