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Mitchell: Ald. Carrie Austin’s voice needed on gun violence

Ald. Carrie Austin | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Follow @MaryMitchellCSTAs the grandmother of a 17-year-old male, my heart goes out to Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).

Her 28-year-old grandson, Kenneth Austin, is one of four men charged with fatally shooting John Thomas Grover in Louisville on Jan. 20.

The alderman’s grandson has been charged with first-degree murder, robbery, tampering with evidence and possession of a handgun by a felon.

He was out on bond on charges in an attempted robbery last year when he was accused of this fresh crime.

Besides derailing his own life, as the grandson of this prominent political family, Kenneth Austin has brought a great deal of shame to his family’s name.

OPINION

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After all, when Supt. Eddie Johnson raves and rants about lax gun laws, Kenneth Austin is the person that Johnson is talking about.

And in the past, his grandmother has been an outspoken critic of how the Chicago Police Department was dealing with gun violence.

In fact, Austin was so fed up after Nikia Turner, 12, and Tishona Polk, 13, were shot in 2012 while walking home from a park, she snapped at then-Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy during a budget hearing.

“Don’t tell me about no statistics. . . . That means crap to me when I know that someone else has been shot,” she said.

Kenneth Austin faces a murder charge in Kentucky and was being held in the Cook County Jail. | Cook County Sheriff’s Office photo
Kenneth Austin faces a murder charge in Kentucky and was being held in the Cook County Jail. | Cook County Sheriff’s Office photo

On Tuesday, the alderman told reporters that she “loves and prays for her grandchildren, but has no ‘personal or independent knowledge’ of the murder charges against her grandson.”

“I love my grandchildren and will try to provide prayer and support to them,” the alderman said.

Grandchildren are a parent’s chance at a do-over. In them, we not only see hope for the future, but the mistakes of our past, and it is through our grandchildren that many of us try to make up for the things we got wrong.

So the alderman is going through some difficult nights right now, and it is not my intention to add to her misery.

But she needs to use this painful situation to start a much-needed conversation.

Obviously, her grandson is innocent until proven guilty. But how did this young black man, who comes from a solid background, end up so far on the wrong side of the law?

After all, the alderman has the reputation of looking out for her family.

For instance, in 2011, Austin ignored raised eyebrows when she made her son, Lemuel Austin III ward superintendent.

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I don’t expect Austin to go public with details that would compromise her grandson’s defense. But she is one of the most powerful aldermen in the City Council, and she is in a unique position to shatter some of the myths about the violence in our city.

When Austin was appointed to fill her late husband’s aldermanic seat in 1994, her grandson was 5 years old.

What happened to him over the years that put him on the track to a jail cell? And what more should have been done to keep him on the right path.

These are not nosy questions.

They are questions that readers raise every time a young person pulls the trigger. As Austin’s situation shows, these shooters are not all neglected souls born into fractured households steeped in the gang culture.

Today, the powerful alderman is sitting in the seat that too many other mothers and grandmothers have had to occupy.

But she is not without hope.

As a god-fearing woman, mother and grandmother, she could use this personal crisis to help other families identify the conditions that could lead to someone else’s beloved grandson picking up a gun and committing a crime.

What Austin can’t do is hide.

We need her to be an honest voice on an issue that only she and others in her shoes understand.

Tweets by @MaryMitchellCST