Thursday, August 26, 2010
Vacant Lots, One Way Streets and Dope Spots all on a Sunday Morning
When X picked me up on Sunday morning, I had a Starbucks in each hand hoping it would help me wake up a little bit before arriving at the first site of the morning. First we headed to the 1000 block of West 14th Street where Marshalla Johnson was found shot in her home. Her husband has since been taken into custody for the murder. The site was fresh. The incident occurred less than a week ago. The address brought us to a public housing project. The brick buildings look new, with brightly painted blue doors, and are spaced so there are plenty of green areas. Right in front of Johnson’s building was a tree covered resting area with a bench around the base of the largest one. Next to it was a large yellow sign for posting of events. On it you could make out faded writing announcing a movie screening. The long paths that took you from the parking lot to the buildings were lined with large brightly colored concrete cylinders to keep people from driving up them. The area was strangely quiet. I only saw one man walking outside a few buildings away and the only sound I could hear was a baby crying from an open window in the building I was photographing.
Our second location was on the 2200 block of South Springfield where Waseem, Barry, and Leon Smith were all shot and killed in a car outside their home. Police say the shooting appeared to be gang related. Springfield is one way so we had to pass it and come back around. As we passed the intersection of Springfield and Cermak, we saw two teenage boys look at us and take off down the street. It appeared that they were lookouts for a dope spot on the block we were headed to. We turned onto Avers, which dead-ended into train tracks. The only way to get onto Springfield was to follow the tracks along what was no bigger than an alley. There were three people on the block. A man was sitting in a pick-up truck near the alley entrance, a woman was sitting outside at the address of the shooting, and a man sat on his porch a few houses down from there. It felt like everyone stopped moving as soon as we came. This block of Springfield, which is exceptionally narrow, has houses on the East side of the street that are opposed by a twenty-foot chain link fence that separates them from a huge vacant lot. I was extremely nervous in this location because if anything happened there was only one way out. I felt very trapped. I imagine the people that live there must feel the same way. The weight of that chain link fence probably bears on them as it casts shadows over their houses.
The next location was about two blocks away in the 4200 block of West Cermak. It was at this location that Lajuan Webb was shot and killed on July 7th. As we drove up to the location, we passed a teenage boy riding a small BMX bike in circles at the end of the side street that was just west of the site. The address was outside of a building on the busy main drag. This part of Cermak has a huge grassy median with big tall trees in the center. A man that appeared to be homeless was sitting on a plastic pail under one of the trees in the middle. As we got out of the car, the boy on the bike circled closer and closer. When I pulled out my camera, he stopped near the same tree the homeless man was sitting under, lifted his chin to get a better look at what we were doing and promptly disappeared. X said he must be another dope spot lookout. I knew I got the shot I wanted, but I was just taking a few more when another kid on a small BMX rode up to the door at the address I was photographing and rang the bell. I packed up my camera and started back towards the car. As we were getting into the car, the other boy who had disappeared earlier circled around towards us and rode right up past the side of the car, looking at us as he passed. We pulled out and he went back to circling at the end of the block we first saw him on.
Myron Farris was killed just one block north in his garage when two gunmen opened fire on him on the 4200 block of 21st Place. 21st Place is a cute little street, lined with brick three flats and beautiful grey stones each donning colorful potted plants and small gardens. We pulled into the alley behind the house. There was a man just a few garages down working under his SUV. He was talking to a woman who I could not see. As I was photographing I heard him talking about how his son was caught with a gun and how disappointed he was in him. He said he needed to straighten him out so he sent him to military school. The woman he was talking to, maybe a neighbor, agreed with him. We passed by them on the way out of the alley. The woman was sitting on a chair in the garage. She smiled warmly at me. We turned back onto Cermak to get to the next location. We saw the same boy on the BMX still circling at the end of the same block as we passed that location again. It brought to my attention how close these last few sites were from each other.
We went to 3900 West 31st Street where we thought that Michelle Maldonado was shot and killed, but after trying to find the address and reading the breaking news release again realized that it was actually on 32nd Street. This part of 32nd Street was a nice seemingly tucked away residential block, but it was actually a very busy street. Somehow traffic must get routed through there because there was a constant flow. After struggling to capture a few car free photographs, we headed out to the next site.
We went from there to an alley in the 2600 block of South Ridgeway where an unidentified man was shot and killed on Monday of Memorial Day weekend. We had to circle around to make sure we were in the right location. As we did, we passed a street festival being set-up. At the end of the block was a stage and seating under a blue tarp. A man crossed the street in front of us carrying three huge boxes of hot dogs. The fest would be up and running soon. People in the neighborhood seemed to be starting to walk that way. The alley was very close to all this action, but seemed secluded. Across from the freestanding garages on the southeast side was what looked like the back of a school. The whole wall was covered with a mosaic of yellow, blue, and red tiles. There was an alcove that allowed me to back up and photograph more of the area surrounding the location of the shooting. I noticed a plastic slide and some kids toys strewn about in the yard on the other side of the garage where they found this man shot.
The next location we visited was in the Near West Side in the 2900 block of South Wood Street where Ray Ressler was killed. The address was right outside of a large apartment building that looked like it was condemned. The front entrance was blocked off and the side of the building was covered with ivy. Some of the windows on the front were also boarded up. The back of the building was free of ivy and showed that it was a brick building painted white. Satellites for direct TV still hung off the backside of some of the apartments. There was a lot of foot traffic in the area. Many of the people looked like they were dressed up for Sunday mass. One couple walked by with a packet of information. They turned onto 21st Place where they met an agent and went into a building just a few steps from the site. Directly across the street from the front of the building and the corner where the incident occurred was a police camera.
After we left the site of Ressler’s murder, we got onto Lake Shore Drive heading north towards where Karen Salino was killed. We exited Lake Shore on Hollywood, so I thought we should go by the site where Olutosin Bajomo was killed to see if it was less active than it was a few days before. The area was bustling. People were out jogging, walking, nurses were out in their scrubs presumably on their lunch break and Ardmore had tons of car traffic as well. This area of Edgewater is extremely diverse. All kinds of people passed as I photographed. The memorial for Bajomo was still there. There was writing on the ground on the sidewalk where he died. RIP. A mother with her two kids walked by. One of the young girls was attracted to the balloons tied to the tree. Her mother pulled her away. Everyone that passed gave the memorial a glance, but no one stopped to really take it in. It was as though it was a normal sight.
We kept heading north from there to the address of the apartment where Karen Salino was allegedly shot and killed by her boyfriend. The six flat brick building sat between two brightly painted well-kept Victorian houses. On the building, centered between the third floor windows, was a crest. The street was lined with parked cars, but there was a free spot right in front of the address. A man and woman in an SUV pulled into my shot and began to park there. When they saw me they waved and pulled out to find another parking spot. I thought that was nice of them seeing that parking was coveted in the area.
It was a long day and it was finally time to eat. On the way back south, X and I stopped and picked up some food at the new Maxwell Street in Rogers Park.