Where are we really safe? How violence in the community impacts students’ lives

By Madeleine Spanbauer, Staff Writer

Old Town Park luxury apartments, near where the carjacking took place.

On January 10, 2023, Walter Payton College Prep went into a soft lockdown in response to a carjacking that took place by a luxury apartment building on the Near North Side of Chicago, leaving many students trapped inside the school unable to leave. The Chicago Police Department called in a SWAT team to the apartment complex to aid them in the search for the suspects. After a search, three out of four suspects were apprehended, but during the search, residents of Old Town Park apartments were forced to evacuate. Residents were let back into the building after waiting five hours, and no one was injured.

According to the Chicago Police Department, vehicle theft has increased by 116% since the height of the pandemic in 2020. Crime rates in Chicago have been on the rise, and the amounts of robberies have increased. COVID-19 resulted in a declining economy, so many members of the community have been in need of resources that they can no longer afford, leading some to resort to theft.

Due to the increasing frequency of vehicle theft since 2020, it is not altogether surprising that one occurred across the street from Payton. Isabel McCarthy ‘25 was running Track and Field when, “I was out running, and when I came back I got stopped a bunch of times on Wells because the road was closed and we didn’t really know what was going on.” Many students on the Track and Field team were having difficulty getting back into the building because of the soft lockdown. 

Emily Cheng ‘25 and Cyriana Lara ‘25 collectively stated, “We came back from our workout, and we didn’t know what was going on, everything was fenced off. We had to go down Oak to take an extra detour. And then, we made it into the building, like, minutes before they were shutting it down. The security guard was asking for our IDs, but we didn’t have them, they were upstairs.” 

The Payton students and staff were not the only ones in the vicinity affected by the incidents on January 10. Aldi, the grocery store down Wells, was also forced to shut down due to the dangers, but they declined to give any comments. 

Since violence in the community has become ever-more prevalent, students have been coming up with ideas on how to improve safety. Rhea Makkuni ‘25 thinks that self defense is an important part of community safety. “Everyone should be taught some form of self defense. Self defense can really empower you as a person. Wherever you are, whatever time of day, you know that you have something in your back pocket. Self defense is not about kicking someone or punching them; there’s a lot of safety tactics, like identifying someone who might be dangerous and looking out for potentially dangerous situations.”

Rhea Makkuni is taking her own advice to heart, as she co-founded a self-defense organization called Safe and Aware. When she was in eighth grade, she and her friend Nadia Rosadi started the Safe and Aware blog in order to educate others about the importance of self defense after a series of kidnappings in her area. Makkuni stated, “Just because you have pepper spray doesn’t mean that you are practicing good self defense. A lot of self defense is about mentality.” Makkuni and her co-founder started the Safe and Aware non-profit and hosted a self defense class for the first time the summer of 2022. She and Rosadi were featured at a club fair and amassed a large following, and their classes have been thriving ever since. If you would like to learn more about Safe and Aware, please visit the Safe and Aware blog.

Overall, the incident of January 10, 2023 has left the entire neighborhood shaken. While incidents like this are likely to take place again in the future, there are still many opportunities you can take to educate yourself and keep yourself safe. Always be on the lookout for new ways to improve the community around you, and remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

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