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Alisa Valentin/MEDILL

Syron Smith gives a resident a list of violent crimes that have occurred in the region.

1st Congressional District anti-violence organizer remains hopeful despite crime

by Alisa Valentin
Oct 11, 2012


Alisa Valentin/MEDILL

Jabari Robinson (left) speaks with Englewood resident Lonell Mailey about violence in the area.

Alisa Valentin/MEDILL

Syron Smith walks around the South Side of Chicago informing residents about the violence in the area.

Every day Syron Smith visits crime-filled neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side. Even on the city’s coldest days, Smith and his team hand out what they call violence sheets, which chart a list of violent crimes that have occurred in the region.

Smith’s focus is on neighborhoods located in Illinois’s 1st Congressional District, which stretches across much of the South Side of Chicago. Some of these neighborhoods include portions of Englewood, Woodlawn and Roseland.

This year Englewood and Roseland community areas have seen more than 700 violent crimes each, which include robbery, battery, assault and homicide, according to Chicago Police Department data. Woodlawn has seen more than 400 violent crimes.

Smith, 37, is a region leader in the National Block Club University, which has a mission to “combat crime and disorder across 167 of America’s most dangerous neighborhoods.” Smith began his anti-violence campaign at a young age in the Cabrini-Green public housing project.

“I remember asking my mom, I was 6 years old, why were blacks killing each other? I heard about the KKK and the white sheets, but I was seeing black on black [crime],” Green said. “She couldn’t give me a good answer, so I remember praying and asking God to let me grow up and do something about it. Since ’81 it’s been in my spirit.”

Lonell Mailey, a life-long resident of Englewood, attributes much of the violence to young men who follow in their fathers’ paths.

“A lot of these young boys, their daddies are locked up for the same stuff they’re doing now,” Mailey said. “Why would you want to follow his footsteps and end up in the same spot he’s in? In jail ... or dead.”

Smith said the violence in the community will not be repaired without fixing political and economic problems. He has been running for public office since 2006, including alderman multiple times.

“If I was an elected official I’d be jumping up and down screaming, doing sit-ins and protests, because I couldn’t just tolerate seeing 410 people murdered in Chicago.”

The grassroots organizer said he is disappointed in all local black politicians, not just 1st District U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago). Rush is expected to easily defeat his Republican challenger Donald Peloquin.

“There are 19 black aldermen out of 50 and when you look at the conditions of the black people here,” Smith added, “I don’t think any of them would say they are pleased with their job performance.”

Despite the violence, and his disappointment in Rush’s effectiveness in reducing it, Smith said he remains hopeful about the work he does in the community.

“There will be a time to rest, but now isn’t the time. We don’t know if we’ll speak something into someone’s life that will make them go in the house and not be killed tonight."