City leaders, advocates work to improve city’s east side

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Community leaders and activists are fighting for growth on one side of the city. It’s an area they say, for years, has seemed to be forgotten.

“This community is for all of us, and we should want all of it to be well-represented and taken care of,” said Sunshine Clemons. She’s the co-founder of the Springfield’s Black Lives Matter chapter. “A lot of people in this community, especially on the east side, I believe, feel undervalued and underheard, over-policed, but they are just as important to this community as anyone on any other side,” she explained.

What she’s talking about is how Springfield is historically known for being divided by the train tracks, with the east side on one side and the rest of the city on the other. But some city leaders are trying to encourage more investment on the east side.

“Everybody who lives here kindof knows that, that there’s the east side and the west side, and the east side, where most of our black residents live,” said community activist Adelaide Swick. “That’s something that we really need to look into more especially, just making sure that we’re investing in businesses on that side of town. I know a lot of businesses, particularly black-owned, small businesses have been hit really hard by the pandemic and lost a lot of business.”

And losing business can do more than just take away money.

“If you are continuing to underfund a certain area, that’s where the crimes is going to happen because people are going to commit those crimes to get their food that they need or steal it to supplement their income. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t out there working and doing the best that they can, but if they have less opportunity, then more crime is often going to be the result of that,” explained Clemons. That’s where alderwoman Doris Turner comes in. She’s working hard to get more money to those parts of town.

“We have the cannabis funding that is available and coming to Springfield, and so I did pass an ordinance that required some of that funding to be spent specifically on the east side of Springfield,” Turner said.

The city has a TIF district on its far east side. That’s an area the city has decided needs help. It gives them a way to direct tax dollars toward development in that area. Turner says she’s trying to be very critical about where that money goes.

“We want to make sure that it’s not a one-time infusion into the area, that it is going to spur economic development and that it is going to bring more money back into the area,” Turner explained.

While there is still a lot of work to be done, all agree that they’re headed in a good direction, and that’s something all people in the city can be grateful for.

“It might not be your residential area, but we’re all part of the same community. So any part of Springfield that we can make better, benefits everybody,” said Clemons.

Police relations are also a big topic of conversation when it comes to race relations in the city. Springfield council members just passed an ordinance focused on that. It bans the use of chokeholds and neck restraints unless it’s during a “deadly force encounter”. It also bans the use of things like tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds, among other things.

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