After listening to my stories all summer, a friend strongly recommended that I watch the HBO series The Wire. I finally started. In one of the first episodes the police walk into “the low rises” and a bunch of kids that are on lookout for the drug dealers all call out “five-o.” X said “five-o” isn't really used anymore. Now, “lights out in the alley” is one of the many things that dope boys will call out. Another saying is “Mike Jones.” Interestingly, these much more creative sayings both come from rap and hip-hop. Mike Jones is a rapper who so audaciously promotes himself that he used to get kicked out of class in high school for standing up during lessons and yelling out his name. I cannot find the exact source of “lights out in the alley,” but it may come from a Crown Nation song called “Cut the Lights Out.”
Anyway, X picked me up this morning around 7:15. After stopping for a much-needed coffee, we headed to the 8100 block of South Winchester Avenue where Kevin Banks was shot and killed in the front yard of a residence. A cute little brick house with red awnings over the windows, freshly cut grass, and a small garden with yellow flowers blossoming presented a surprising location for such violence to take place.
Jerome Cole Muhammed was shot and killed just a few blocks away from here in an alley in the 1700 block of West 83rd Street. The streets in the area were extremely hard to navigate. Many of them were one-way the same way for a few consecutive streets and some were blocked off with cul-de-sacs or turned from a one-way south to a one-way north from one black to the next. There was a block club sign with a gaping hole in the middle of it on the corner of 83rd and Wood. Just off that there was a white sedan that had been struck by another car, badly dented, and pushed up on the sidewalk. A young man was sitting on the stairs of the house that the car was in front of. He didn’t seem to notice. Since Muhammed was killed in the alley, we had to find the address on the street side before we could find the location in the back. Many of the houses were not numbered so we went around the block several times trying to figure out where the address fell. The young man on the front steps watched us each time we passed. I mentioned it to X. Our last time around; we realized we had been going the wrong way down a one-way street. That’s why the young man kept looking at us. Oops. The address fell in the mouth of the alley. The neighborhood was relatively quiet with the exception of a few little girls that walked past with pink backpacks on and went into a residence a few houses down from where I was photographing. Their voices carried. I could hear one of them talking about me photographing. Why I was there was not part of any conversation that I could hear. It made me wonder if they knew about the shooting. It also made me imagine that they might remember the incident every time they pass the mouth of that alley to go home.
Pierre York, 19, was also shot and killed just five blocks away on the sidewalk in front of the Winchester Plaza in the 1800 block of West 87th Street. The sign was full of blank slots where store names should be. There must have been a school a few blocks north of the location. Kids wearing backpacks holding their mother’s hands streamed across the intersection. One mother stood with her kids and waited for me to finish before walking in front of my camera. She told her kids that I was a surveyor. In a way that is not entirely inaccurate.
Four blocks from there, on the sidewalk in the 8800 block of South Hermitage Avenue, Dionte Young was also shot and killed. We ended up having to cut through an alley that ended in a T. At the very end there was a car blocking the turn where three men and one woman were idling in the yard of a boarded up house. One man told us to hold up while another man got his keys and backed up the car. We thanked them with a wave. This block of Hermitage was lined with red brick bungalows that had small front yards. Each had matching old-fashioned light posts and matching signs with their house numbers on them. A man was sitting on his porch reading the paper a few houses down. I pointed my camera in his direction to see if he would retreat into the house so that I could get the image that I wanted. He did not, so I had to crop him out of the frame. Behind me, a few teenage boys began to come out of a gangway, gathering to watch me.
The next site was on the sidewalk amidst an array of eclectic houses in the 8700 block of Emerald Avenue. On the 24th of July, Keith King was shot and killed here. The residence he was shot in front of was a one story single family home that was set back off the street. It was flanked by two identical newish Victorian style homes with wicker furniture on the front porches. After taking a few photographs, a little white dog jumped up into the bay window of the house I was in front of and started barking relentlessly. X said, “You just got busted by the dog.” No one came to the window so I kept on photographing. Once we were back in the car, I noticed a house across the street that had some imaginative decorations on the porch. One of them was a tire that was made into a mirror hanging to the left of the front door.
Olayinka Ibitoya and Deante Coleman, both 17-years-old, were found shot and dumped in a location just south of Holland and 90th Street right off the train tracks. As we drove further and further down Holland, it started to feel like we were no longer in the city. There were homes on one side of the street and a thinly wooded area on the other side. Holland ended at 89th Street where there were several yellow school busses parked. There was a depot around the corner. X and I got out; climbed over the arm that was blocking the continuation of the street and stomped through the high grass towards the tracks. X, being the gentleman that he is, went first. After traipsing through the brush, we had to climb up a steep hill to get up to the level of the tracks. It was hard to imagine how someone would have found the boy’s bodies all the way back there. It was a passage to nowhere. I couldn’t imagine any good reason to be walking back there, yet there I was, walking back there.
X always has a radio with him when we go out. It is always chattering in the background.
I don’t always pay attention to it, but I think X is always aware of what they are saying. On our way to the next location, we heard over the radio that someone had been shot at 77th & Constance. The location we were headed to was in the 7800 block of South Union Avenue. It was much further east than where we were, but it made me uneasy knowing that this was going on while I was in an area so close by. We parked on 78th Street and rounded the corner towards the address where Dwight Miller was shot and killed on the porch. There was a man standing on the porch next door that was talking on the phone. My nerves got the best of me. I had a hard time concentrating on making a good image. X made me feel comfortable enough to go directly in front of the house on the same side of the street and finally make a good picture. When we got back in the car he said that there were dope bags in the grass near where we were standing. He said he didn’t point them out to me because he didn’t want to make me anymore tense than I already was.
78th Street & Union
Our last official location of the day was just a few blocks away where 15-year-old Kevin Jones was shot and killed in an apartment building on the corner of 78th Street and Carpenter after a fight broke out at a party there. Someone involved in the fight walked outside, pulled out a handgun and fired several shots through the first-floor apartment window where the party was going on. One of those bullets went through the window, striking and killing Jones. One unit on the first-floor had a “For Rent” sign hanging in what looked like a brand new window. The house next door to the building had a large CeaseFire poster on the front door.
Before X dropped me back at my house, we decided to go by the site of Julio Castrumita’s death again. X said he passed the site three or four times this week and each time there were people on the porch. As anticipated three young men were on the porch when we passed. This site is going to be a challenge.
Over the radio we heard that another shooting occurred at 55th Street and Sangamon. We had driven just two blocks away from that location only twenty minutes prior.
After today I have 59 sites left to visit. My goal is to the rest of the sites in the next three weeks.