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Residents Question Neighborhood Safety After Boystown Stabbing

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Early Saturday morning, police were called to the 7-Eleven in the East Lakeview neighborhood, where a man had been stabbed multiple times during an altercation.

On Monday, police charged 20-year-old South Side resident Anthony Bledsoe with felony aggravated battery in the incident, which reportedly happened about 3 a.m. Police said the men were arguing and began to scuffle when Bledsoe allegedly stabbed a 34-year-old man in the chest and outer thigh. Security guards at a nearby bar, Hydrate, at 3458 N. Halsted St., reportedly held Bledsoe until he was taken into custody that night.

Bledsoe's bond has been set at $150,000 and he is due back in court June 24.

The stabbing victim, unnamed to protect his privacy, was in serious condition and taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital, 836 W. Wellington Avenue, where his punctured lung was treated, according to postings on the Boystown community Facebook page.

According to the victim's Facebook profile, he still has one breathing tube in his chest and will be in the hospital through at least the end of the week. One friend described the victim as "a fighter" and called on his friends to "keep him in prayers."

The dramatic incident has re-ignited the tempers of some Boystown residents, who say there has been an upswing in crime they attribute to loitering youth attracted to the area due to its LGBT-centric nightlife and community resources like the Center on Halsted. It is an issue that frequently carries racial undertones, as a 2009 Chicago Tribune article, titled 'Some black youth feel more at home in Boystown, but get chilly reception' addressed. Bledsoe, the alleged attacker, is black, while the stabbing victim is Caucasian.

Bloggers at HillBuzz have written several posts in recent years pinning upswings of crime on largely African-American loitering youth. They have claimed area police and residents resist "cracking down on thugs and hoodlums … just because the perpetrators are black and black people are sacred pets in this town." The writer continued on to urge the youth to "[b]ecome people the neighborhood WANTS to have around, and you will be welcomed."

While the neighborhood is preparing to host the city's 42nd annual Pride Parade and festival this Sunday, an event that attracts hundreds of thousands people to the area to the community each year, the stabbing is striking a particularly tense chord with many residents.

Modesto Tico Valle, executive director of the Center on Halsted, told HuffPost Chicago that the center's "thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and his family" and added that the center "is very much in tune with the community in wanting to have a safe neighborhood" and open to hearing any resident suggestions for helping to reduce crime.

"Of course, we need to be alarmed and come together as a community to find solutions for what's going on. Any kind of crime should be alarming to all of us," Valle added.

Though some resident comments have targeted the center's youth programming participants in response to the stabbing and other recent violence, Valle said it was important to recognize that over 25 percent of the youth that utilize the center in one way or another actually call the Lakeview neighborhood home. He discouraged the community from rushing to blame the recent incident on any particular group of people.

"We can always deflect responsibility and place blame in others but that won't end the crime and violence that's happening in the neighborhood in the end," he said.

Jay Lyon, executive director of the Northalsted Business Alliance, said their group has increased the number of off-duty police officers they have hired to patrol the area for the summer. They are particularly staffing up between midnight and 4 a.m., which is when crimes like the recent stabbing have occurred.

Lyon also encouraged businesses in the area to take advantage of rebate prices for certain qualifying establishments looking to purchase security cameras or safety lighting. Police officers were able to use security footage from the Chicago Diner in order to build their case against Bledsoe.

Max Bever, director of communications for 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, another frequent target of some East Lakeview residents' complaints about crime in the area, described the attack as "very concerning." Tunney's office is currently putting together a group of individuals from the neighborhood to join the alderman in attending Bledsoe's next court date and serving as court advocates.

Tunney's office is also telling residents to avoid walks alone late at night, be aware of their surroundings at all times and not hesitate to alert police to any suspicious or illegal behavior they witness.

Bever also applauded the city's new police superintendent Garry McCarthy's oversight of the department's resources in dealing with the recent surge of warm weather-related crimes in Lakeview and elsewhere.

"Unfortunately, when bad things like this happen, people do immediately want to point a finger," Bever said. "But we're constantly keeping our ear to the ground and thinking of proactive ways we can address this and make sure something like this never happens again."

In what was a busy weekend, police also responded to a call just after 3 a.m. early Monday morning when a group of men were involved in a disturbance outside Steamworks, 3246 N. Halsted St. No arrests were made as no criminal activities were found to be taking place, though the group may have been intimidating the bath house's patrons, according to police.

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