Saturday, August 28, 2010
"Don't Shoot. I Want to Grow Up"
Policewoman C reappeared. She called me Tuesday night and apologized for not getting back to me for the past month. She said she was set to get me out to photograph on Wednesday. I went through my information and picked an area on the Far South Side to cover the next day. A & H picked me up at our meeting place and we headed south on the highway. We got off at 115th Street and after making a few wrong turns got back on track by using my phone’s GPS to head toward the 12400 block of South Eggleston Ave. where 20-year-old Samuel Coleman was shot and killed on August 1st. The block was mostly bungalows. This particular street looked a little more run down than those adjacent to it. I was surprised to find that yellow and red police tape was still wrapped around a tree and strewn on the grass in front of the address, which was an empty lot. A memorial of stuffed animals, liquor bottles, and signed poster board marked the location. The house next to the lot had a property management sign on the front and a CeaseFire sticker in the window that read “Don’t Shoot.”
The next location was on a street of well-kept bungalows. As drove from one location to the next, I saw several people out mowing their lawns and tending to their gardens. Like the previous site, the 11700 block of South Racine was not as well tended to as the other blocks around it. There were several homes that were boarded up on either side of the street. 21-year-old Marshall Reed and a friend were sitting in a car on this block when someone fired shots into the vehicle, killing Reed. They were parked in front of what appeared to be a bungalow style split family home. Half of the house was boarded up, but the other half looked lived in. This spot was also marked by a memorial at the base of a tree right next to the road. What I found particularly interesting about this memorial was that aside from the stuffed animals, liquor bottles, and flowers there was also an orange sticker that read FUNERAL. As I was photographing a young man who was putting fliers on doors passed by the half boarded up house, went up the neighbor’s front walk and rubber banded a piece of paper to their handle. He had to dodge the sprinkler that was turned on and watering the front lawn as he proceeded to the next house.
The site of Jeremiah Sterling’s murder was only two blocks away from where Reed was killed. Sterling, 16, was chased through his backyard into the alley behind his house where he was shot at least 7 times. He lived in the 11500 block of South May Street. The incident happened on the 15th of July, but there was still a huge memorial for him at the location. When A & H saw the extent of the memorial, they thought they should get out of the car and stand guard just in case. The memorial looked well tended to. There was plastic sheeting behind it that I imagine is placed over it in bad weather. There were about 10 bottles of liquor, stuffed animals, a Yankee baseball cap, a burned CD that said MIAH TRAX on it and a few other items. On the open garage next to it was some writing (I never told you dat I love you but I do –Evan) and a CeaseFire sticker (Don’t Shoot. I want to grow up). As I was photographing, A & H were talking about priorities. They thought it was strange that the houses on the block had busted roofs and no drainpipes, but that they all had satellite dishes. H found a ricochet mark on a garage across from where Sterling was shot. As we got back into the car, I noticed a hole in the neighbor’s garage door. H said it was a bullet hole. He said Sterling must have been shot from a certain angle to have it make a mark like that. I took a picture of it.
The next site we went to was the home of Anthony Anglin, who was shot and killed during a home invasion this past week. It was apparent that people were home at the residence. In no way did I want to disrespect the Anglin family. I left my tripod in the car and warily walked across from the house. I took one picture before I put the camera down and thought that I should come back. This was all too new. Just as I began to walk away, two men got out of a car, walked up the path to the house and sat on the front steps. This site was not ready to be photographed yet. I will go back when things have settled down.
From here we headed back east towards the lake. We stopped in the 700 block of 111th Street where Durwin Hackman and two others were shot after an argument with another group. Hackman died after being transported to the hospital. The shooting occurred on the sidewalk right in front of a Citgo station on a very busy street. I felt like I was photographing in a fish bowl. The people across the street waiting for the bus were watching me, the people gassing up at the station were watching me, people walking by turned and looked back as they passed, and people driving in their cars slowed to see what I was doing. I didn’t feel threatened at all, but I definitely felt the heaviness of all the eyes on me.
The next site was where Michael Wade crashed his car after he was shot on the 11100 block of South Normal. As we were pulling up, a few young teenagers were walking in our direction so A got out of the car to keep an eye out. As I set up my camera another teenage boy rode his bike by. He smiled and said hello. The houses on the block were larger single-family homes, but many of them were boarded up. The site of the crash was in front of a house with yellow siding and brown trim. A red car that was pretty banged up was parked in front. Just as I picked up my equipment, a car with music blaring sped down the street towards me. As it approached, it stopped in front of me. The driver, a twenty something year old man glared menacingly at me. His piercing stare made my heart beat into my throat. He looked ahead and saw A standing next to the car and sped off just as fast as he approached. I got back in the car and asked A if she saw that. She laughed and said, “Yeah. He did not like you.” I laughed too hoping it would shake me of the panic and fear I was feeling. At the end of the block a young boy had come out of a store and was untying a cute little puppy from a bike rack. A opened the window and told him how cute the dog was and tried to talk to him. The boy averted his eyes and didn’t respond. When the light changed and we pulled away I saw him scowl. It made me wonder why he had such distain for her.
The 11700 S Peoria Ave. was our next location. This was the site where Louis Wilson was shot and killed. The block reminded me more of the panhandle of Florida than of somewhere typical of Chicago. The houses on Peoria all had backyards that were filled with cars, motorcycles and other things that can be stored outside. There was a thick wooded area on the other side of the alley across from the garages and everything was green and lush, but not manicured. Right above the mouth of the alley where Wilson collapsed there were sneakers hanging from a wire. The man who lived in the house right at the end of the block, including a backyard and what must have been a carriage house, sat at the mouth of the alley came out and stood and watched me for a few minutes. He disappeared back into the house pretty quickly. Louis’ cousin commented on my blog post about his death after it happened. He said that Louis was a good guy and was not deserving of such a cowardly act. I was hoping that maybe the man that was watching was his cousin. I wish I had a chance to meet him.
We went from there to the 11500 block of South Perry Ave where 13-year-old Robert Freeman was riding his bike when someone fired shots from a gangway. A neighbor said he saw a masked gunman stand over Freeman and continue firing into the boy's body. Police told his mother that he had been shot twenty-two times. There was no one around so I was surprised when I heard a soft voice from behind me. I turned around to see a boy in his late teens/early 20s poking his head out of the first floor window of a house. He asked what the pictures were for. I told him it I was taking them for a project addressing violence in the city. He nodded his head and I turned around and continued to photograph. When I picked up my tripod to leave he was still quietly watching. I walked under his window and asked if he know Robert. He said he was his cousin. He pointed to a small grassy area below him and said that he was sitting right there when it happened. He pointed out the house where the boy lived and told me that there was still blood on the ground. I expressed my condolences and explained where he could find more information on what I was doing. He said goodbye and pulled his head back in the window.
The location we visited after that was on the corner of 115th Street and Indiana where William Allen was found on the sidewalk shot in the head. The location was right in front of a public health center. Just north of the parking lot in the rear of the public health center, the block turned residential. Across 115th Street was a large church. On the corner opposite the site was a block club sign sponsored by All State. It appeared that people were adhering to the requests of the club illustrated in the image above it.
We pulled onto the 11100 block of South Edbrooke. Phillip Baldwin was found beaten and shot in the trunk of a car in the alley just a few buildings south of 111th Street. The building on the south side of the alley was a three flat. One of the windows on the top floor was open. On the north side of the alley was a larger apartment building that was boarded up on the first floor. The front door was blocked with a fresh piece of wood. A huge address was spray painted across it. At the end of the alley I could see kids playing on a playground that is part of Palmer Park.
Our next location was on the 10700 block of South Indiana where 8-year-old Tanaja Strokes was shot and killed while jumping rope outside her home. The house was a white single family home with a big porch. A man was sitting on the porch. The front steps were covered with stuffed animals arranged in a memorial for the young girl. We kept driving.
The next site was on 10600 block of South Wentworth Ave. where the 1-year-old Roberson twins died of maternal neglect that was ruled a homicide. The house was a single-family home that sat next to another almost identical house. The two houses were sandwiched between vacant lots. The lot on the south side looked at the back of a long building that housed a string of retail stores on 107th Street. The door was open in the house. I took my camera off the tripod and proceeded to take some photographs from across the street. Wentworth was a very busy street so being stealthy about photographing was somewhat difficult.
The last site for the day was on the 10200 block of South Wentworth, just 4 blocks north of where we were. This site was where Tito Lindsey was shot and killed near his home at 7 in the morning. The block looked gorgeous. It looked like all the houses had a fresh coat of paint, all the lawns were perfectly mowed, and flowers were blooming on everyone’s porches. We pulled up to the corner. Before I got out I looked ahead of us and saw about six 20 something year old men hanging out on the porch kitty corner from the site. I pointed them out to A & H and they immediately got out of the car to keep a watch while I photographed. As I was trying to concentrate on setting up my shots I heard mayhem in the background. The men on the porch were yelling down to A & H in an aggressive tone asking what I was pointing my camera at. They told them that they didn’t need to worry about it. Someone must have hid his face because I could hear A tell him that they didn’t need to hide. As their voices got louder and more insistent about wanting to know what I was doing, A & H’s responses seemed more even and controlled. As this was all going on, another man and woman walked past. The man had a brown paper bag. He started taunting H, asking him if he was going to arrest him for it. H said no. As they passed the porch full of men they began to yell back and forth at each other. I crossed the street and got back into the car. I was ready to go. I was shaking.
All of this is so very real. People have died in the places I am visiting. The circumstances of those murders are not always known. I might be walking into an extremely hostile environment, as was proved to me at this last site. On the surface, photographs don’t seem like they are so threatening, but they reflect what’s there and I guess sometimes people don’t want others to see whatever that is. In reality, I was photographing a sidewalk, but because someone died there, that sidewalk is attached on another level to that person. While I felt threatened by those men, they also proved to me that that attachment does exist in death.