Community meeting held in wake of beating of teenage girl

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About 140 Belmont Cragin residents, many demanding more police presence and action on the part of public officials, packed a community meeting Thursday night organized after a 15-year-old girl was found sexually assaulted this week on her way to school.

Many sought more information about the attack in the neighborhood, while others who spoke out said they were grandparents and parents scared for their families after the attack, which was reported around 8 a.m. Tuesday. The girl was walking to a bus stop and sustained head injuries and remains hospitalized, officials said.

But before the residents weighed in, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who had not scheduled to attend, spoke for a few minutes.

“We’re not going to stop until we solve this crime,” he told the crowd, who applauded him, adding, “We are going to make sure that we catch this monster.”

McCarthy told residents police have made some progress on the investigation but that police “are not even close to bringing it to fruition.” Other Chicago police officials in attendance told the crowd they don’t yet have a description of the offender.

Still, many residents, invited to speak and share concerns at the microphone, were critical of the level of police protection in the neighborhood and said the city is not doing enough to prevent crime.

“There’s cameras there that are for tickets, not for protection. We need cameras, we need patrols, we need faster response time,” said Raquel Castaneda, 26, who said she has lived in Belmont Cragin her entire life.

Many also criticized Chicago Public Schools officials, who oversee Safe Passage routes to schools.
The girl was found less than half a block from one of the routes, patrolled areas that were set up for the current school year to help students who have longer walks in the wake of dozens of elementary school closings.

Enit Martinez-Gonzalez, who said her high school daughter leaves for school the same time as the girl who was attacked, said routes to school should be patrolled and staffed earlier in the morning.

“Help us make this better,” Martinez-Gonzalez told the public officials at the meeting.

Some officials at the meeting, including aldermen, state legislators, CPS officials and police, responded to the criticism and demand for more vigilance.

“We do care,” said CPS Chief Safety and Security Officer Jadine Chou. “We’re working with our organization and with Chicago police and with elected officials to see what we can do to help.”

Police Commander Kevin Navarro, whose district includes Belmont Cragin, , said he “guaranteed” that officers would start working in area schools to address crime prevention tips. But even after hearing from officials, residents who spoke said officials must do more.

“We deserve to be safe and our children deserve to be safe going to school in the morning,” said C.K. Johnson as she shouted into the microphone.

Johnson said she lives in the North Center neighborhood but attended the meeting to support the teen who was attacked and her family. She said she drives her son to Lane Tech High School every day to ensure his safety.

“No one is protecting (the children) and it makes me very, very angry as a mother, community member, taxpayer,” she said.

The nonprofit Northwest Side Housing Center organized Thursday’s meeting. The organization is planning another for 10 a.m. Jan. 25 at the Northwest Community Church, 5318 W. Diversey Ave.

-Chicago Tribune reporting

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