In the wake of the investigation and apprehension of a suspect in the vehicular deaths of three gay Black men in the third district of Chicago, a quickly assembled town hall meeting was held Aug. 25 at Bryn Mawr Community Church, 7000 S. Jeffery Blvdjust a short distance for the Black LGBTQ+ nightspot Jeffery Pub, where an Aug. 14 hit-and-run occurred that killed three young men.
Those in attendance included state representatives, LGBTQ activists and bar owners, representatives from the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office, and LGBTQ organizations. Participants addressed issues affecting the LGBTQ+ youth on Chicago's South Side, specifically in the Third District, and what is needed to support and prevent similar incidents. The event was coordinated by Brave Space Alliance; Mind, Body, and Soul Health Wellness Circle; Affinity Community Services; and the Bryn Mawr Community Church.
The hit-and-run involved four young gay Black men who were allegedly run over by suspect Tavis Dunbar in the early morning hours of Aug. 14. The incident added to national outrage at a time when violence toward LGBTQ+ individuals of color has not abated. Those killed included Devonta Vivetter, 27, of Chicago; Jaylen Ausley, 23; and Donald Huey, 25, of suburban South Holland. A fourth man, 21-year-old Carlee J. McKinney, survived the crash and told ABC Chicago he was out at the bar with Vivetter and Huey, his two best friends, per Block Club. Controversy and outrage erupted over the seemingly slow police investigation as well as the lack of suspects or a clear motive.
Jae Rice, director of communications for Brave Space Alliance, opened the gathering by stating, "I love that we have so many community leaders here. I don't love the lack of youth here. I don't love seeing these leaders who were not at Jaylen's funeral." (Ausley's funeral was held the previous evening.)
Addressing the LGBTQ+ community's needs opened the floor to what was a very animated discussion, although many issues stayed front and center. A major issue was the lack of engagement with young LGBTQ+ individuals. State Rep. Kam Buckner said, "We have a responsibility here. ... We have to be able to listen. It's is not age or gender that separate usit's silence."
Local queer icon Tommy Sampson said, "We need mentorship in this community; this is something that we don't have. We also need to develop a relationship with the [police]. A major problem is that young people don't know where the resources are. Now that Jeffery Pub is now an over-30 club, we will have twentysomethings who have no place to go." (In the wake of the Aug. 14 incident, the age of entry is now 30 at Jeffery Pub; also, the place will play significantly less hip-hop and close earlier, per The Block Club.)
Speaking on the need for more resources in the community, state Rep. Lamont Robinsonhimself a member of the LGBTQ+ communitysaid, "You need to join me in Springfield and tell the people I work with why we need a South Side LGBTQ community center. They need to see your faces and hear your stories. This community center and resources should have been in our community years ago. We need to figure out how to put these resources in front of the youth. We need to let them know we are here and that they are loved."
A talk about the involvement of city government and Lightfoot's attention revealed a deeper discussion into racial equity in Chicago. Chicago Department of Public Health LGBTQ liaison Antonio King said, "The mayor is investing over $15 million in historically ignored communities in Chicago, but none of that money is earmarked for the South Side LGBTQ community. If we can't get the money and resources we need when we have an LGBTQ mayor, then when can we get it?" King also spoke on the city's involvement with the ongoing trend of violence and murder toward LGBTQ+ individuals. Said King, "I got a commitment from [Cook County] State's Attorney Kim Foxx to further investigate the murders of trans women of color. Nothing happened."
Speaking on behalf of Lightfoot, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Elena Gottreich said, "Yes, the mayor has been investing in ignored parts of the city, but she is also the first mayor to do so. Mayor Lightfoot has done a lot for the South and West sides, but she recognizes she needs to do more."
When the discussion veered toward the attention of law enforcement during the investigation of the hit-and-run and why it took so long, Detective Kevin Rassmussen said, "You may ask, 'How come this investigation didn't go quickly but in the end?' We wanted to do it right rather than quickly, and that's what we did."
Sergeant Dina Pattersonhead of community policing in the third district, who stood with five officers (including civilian officer and activist Dawn Valenti)said, "We have a lot of challenges in this district ... but not with the Jeffery Pub. The Third District is one of the most problematic areas in the city. Right down the street, at 71st and Jeffery, we have major gang violence with the Gangster Disciples and, as someone mentioned earlier, at the very same time this hit-and-run case was going on, a gay man was shot in an attempted carjacking.
"As bad as things are, things are changing. Five years ago, you never saw the police in these community forums; now you see us all the time. Still, we are here. We want to continue this conversation and provide resources."