Monday, October 25, 2010
Friday morning was one of the coldest days I’ve been out photographing thus far. X picked me up at 8 a.m. Bundled in a sweatshirt and jacket, I climbed into his car and we were off to photograph at the last two sites of the summer’s homicides. First we headed south to the 1500 block of West Garfield Boulevard where 25-year-old Brandon Brown was killed back in mid-June. Brown was a passenger in a car in line at a White Castle drive-thru when a suspect walked up to the passenger side of the car and shot him at close range. He was taken to the hospital where he died five days later. Police identified him as a known gang member. I had been by this location several times over the summer months, but never stopped to photograph because it was always so busy. I figured that one day I could come really early in the morning before people were out and get some images without the hubbub. At one point I called the location and spoke with a nice young lady that said, “This White Castle is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week except for Christmas.” After that discouraging conversation, I put it off until today. The drive-thru at the restaurant was on the west side of the building so the sun was shining brightly through the trees into my lens. The drive-thru itself was somewhat busy, but the area surrounding that was normally busy with people was pretty quiet. The only people who were out were waiting for the bus. The cold weather was working to my advantage. I photographed from a few different angles, but spent most of our time there chatting with X and waiting for the magic combination of a green light at the intersection and no cars in the drive-thru. It was a combination that was hard to manage. After finally getting some images that I was happy with and were free of people, we headed back north to our last location. On the way, we passed this wall of graffiti on the side of a convenience store surrounded by vacant lots. It looked a lot like the work of CHOKE so we pulled into the alley and traipsed through the high dewy grass to get a good look at it. (See above)
The last location was in the 1300 block of North Pulaski Road at a combination Dunkin Donuts, CITGO, and car wash. This was also a site X and I visited several times before that day. Originally, we had conflicting location codes. We thought that upon arrival we might be able to figure out where the incident happened based on the place, but as it turned out, the huge complex didn’t really tell us anything upon first sight. We came back again and again, once even walking inside and asking the cashier of the gas station if she could give us any details. She said it happened in the parking lot and then pointed in another direction all together. X said he would read the police report and see what he could glean from it. Knowing it was likely to be out last outing, he finally looked at the report on Thursday night. It didn’t give us much more information than we already had. What we did know was that Cesar Rosales, an employee at the car wash on site, got into an argument with another man in the parking lot. The man left and came back about a half hour later with a gun and shot him in the chest. Not really knowing where to point my camera, I stood far back and got in the whole complex. This was even more difficult than at White Castle since the gas station was buzzing with business. After I was done, X looked at me and said, “Well, that was kind of a disappointing finish.” There was no confetti raining from the sky.
X dropped me off and assured me that if I needed to go out and reshoot anything he would most certainly take me. X took me to 113 of the 167 sites this summer, which means that we spent a lot of time together. His girlfriend calls me the other woman. I was sad to leave X that morning knowing that it was our last time out. I think I made a great unlikely friend in the process.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
X picked me Tuesday morning as the sun was coming up, we stopped and got some coffee, and we headed to the South Side where most of the remaining sites to visit were located. Our first spot was in the 2000 block of East 71st Street where 64-year-old Mobolaji Osho was struck by gunfire as he walked out of Jeffery Submarine Sandwich Shop at 2:00 in the afternoon on the 13th of August. The shots, not meant for him, came from an attacker firing at a group of teens near the store. X and I were here a few weeks ago and decided that we should come back. It was very busy with sketchy looking characters and there was an active drug corner just a few storefronts from the site. We went here first in hopes that we would make it before the day’s action began. I photographed from across the street, which was divided by the Metra train tracks. There were just a few people out walking to work and the bus stop. Once of the other side of the street I could see a huge hoard of people on the far corner waiting for the bus in front of a large retail store that read in huge white letters “WIGS.” As I took pictures X would warn me when someone was going to walk into my frame. One of the men that walked by eyed us. When we got back in the car, X said he thought it was the closest we’ve ever come to trouble. I was so involved in photographing that I didn’t notice the aggression the man displayed.
On the way to the next site, we passed a park where there was a group of twenty or so older people out for a walk together. One of the men in the front of the pack was holding a baseball bat. Where were we that these people couldn’t even walk in the park without a bat for protection?
It was a long ride to the next site on the Far South Side in the 10700 block of South Indiana where 8-year-old Tanaja Stokes was also shot and killed by misdirected gunfire. Stokes and another young girl were jumping rope on the sidewalk when two people rode up on bikes and opened fire. Tanaja was shot in the head and died within an hour. Her 5-year-old cousin Ariana Jones was also shot in the head and was sent to the hospital in critical condition. Officials are investigating whether a fight about 20 minutes earlier might have led to the shooting. The fight involved three teens -- two girls and a boy. A group of about 20 teens surrounded the fighting youths, screaming, holding back the boys, and calling each other names. Once the teens stopped fighting, six girls including the one who fought left the scene in a white four-door car. About 10 minutes later, six gunshots rang out to the south on Indiana. I was by this site closer to the date that it occurred and the front steps to the girls’ home were covered in stuffed animals. Someone was sitting on the porch reading so I thought I should come back. Today it was pretty quiet. Someone in the house peeked through the curtains at us as I set up my camera, but didn’t come out. Many of the houses on the street had kids toys in the front yard. A few houses down a group of young girls gathered to walk to school together. As we were leaving a man parked in front of the house, walked up to the front door and entered inside. I was sure that if someone in the house asked what I was doing that I would get a good response, but I wanted to remain invisible and not serve as any kind of reminder to them of what happened.
Next we went to the site of Anthony Anglin’s murder in the 10800 block of South Sangamon. It was here that two masked men forced their way into his home at around 1 a.m., ransacked the house and shot him in the chest. Anglin's son, another woman were also home at the time. Soon afterwards, Morgan Park District police stopped a car without its lights on. They questioned three men inside and, after noticing their "nervousness," patted them down. On two of the men, they found black masks and more than $2,000 in cash. All three men were taken into custody. This was another location that I was at once before. The last time I was here, just minutes after getting out of the car to photograph, a car pulled up and two very well dressed men got out. They walked up and sat on the front stoop. They looked distraught. I got back in the car and said I wanted to come back. This time there was no one around save for two old women that were talking in a driveway five or six houses away. The houses on the block were all very nice with large front yards and their own driveways and the neighborhood seemed quaint and safe. Anglin’s driveway had two cars parked in it and one in the street right in front. Again I tried to be as invisible as possible. This was another site that I felt that my presence might just be a sobering reminder.
The site where David Buckner was killed not too far from there in Ada Park in the 1300 block of West 112th Street. After a fight began in the park there, Buckner’s group and another group began shooting at each other. Buckner was the only one killed, but there were four others shot in the confrontation. The incident happened in the northwest corner of the park near a playground and picnic area. On the south side of the swing set, there was a tree with blue graffiti on it that read, “BDN LSK9.” X said it was Black Disciple Nation writing and that the K had something to do with killing. It was too early for the playground and surrounding park to be busy, but I imagine a place so central to the neighborhood would still be full of activity at 8:00 pm on a Saturday night in August.
Only 2 ½ blocks north in the 11000 block of South Loomis was where 17-year-old Marquita Jamieson was stabbed to death during a knife fight. A woman that she knew at her home stabbed her in the neck after having a verbal altercation that escalated over a fight that their relatives were having over a boy. Jamieson was reportedly walking away when she was grabbed and stabbed by the offender, who is also 17. Between the park and the site of her death there were three churches. One sat on a large lot directly across the street from the sidewalk she was killed on. The sun was still coming up and casting beautiful shadows on the wooden fence from the small trees that lined the street by her home. One of the windows was covered with a Spiderman sheet. While I was photographing a beat up van pulled off to the side down the street and disposed of a bunch of garbage in the road then went on his way.
The next location was in the 1000 block of West 103rd Street at a CITGO gas station in Washington Heights where Eric Hughes was shot multiple times while sitting in his vehicle. The report read that he was shot in the thigh. X said he must have been shot in the femoral artery if it was what killed him. 103rd Street is a busy thoroughfare that must also be a route for local kids to walk to school. The south side of the street was lined with Safe Passage workers in their bright yellow safety vests helping kids safely get to school.
Following that, we went to the site where 19-year-old Kirklinn Fowlkes’ was shot and killed. He and two friends were sitting on the porch of his home in the 2900 block of West 81st Street when they got into an argument with another group who opened fire on them. Fowlkes was shot in the back, another boy sustained a graze wound and the third got away with only a broken wrist as he jumped off the porch to escape. Cook County court records show Fowlkes was charged in June with felony aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, a case that was still pending in court. The block that all this happened on was suprising. The houses were all bungalow style with slight variations in the porch structures, but otherwise almost identical. They all had small front lawns and most had potted plants embellishing the their front stoops. The house where the incident occurred a cat was stretched out in the front bay window enjoying the warmth of the sun. To the side of him there was a small sign that read, “We call police.”
Our next site was an area a bit further west in the 4300 block of West 87th Street in the Ashburn neighborhood where Octavio Pena was found unresponsive in the street with a gunshot wound to his face. The location fell in the street in front of the huge Hometown Christian Church that sat on the corner of 87th Street and Kostner and whose parking lot took up the remaining block that the building itself didn’t cover. This part of 87th Street has two lanes in either direction with a median in the middle. X and I went out into the center of the road to photograph the site. There was a man standing by his car on the south side of the street who watched us walk out there. X said he was keeping an eye on us the whole time. Eventually he crossed the two lanes and joined us in the center. He politely said, “Excuse me, but can I ask why you’re photographing the church?” X told him that I was not interested in the church, but in the homicide that happened there. The man said he lived in the neighborhood and didn’t even hear about it until the next day. X told him that there were 167 homicides in the city over the summer months. The man shook his head and talked about how easily people kill each other. He said that if someone has no respect for their own life, how could they have respect for someone else’s. After a few minutes of conversation, he wished me luck, crossed back over the two lanes, hopped in his car and sped off.
From here we headed north to the 6700 block of South Tripp Avenue where Jovanni Gudino was shot in the head while sitting in a vehicle outside of his home. After passing the side street several times, the address finally brought us to a block where almost every house had some kind of Halloween decorations. The tree-lined street was awash with fallen leaves, which added to the festive fall feeling. The site where Gudino was shot was right in front of a large tree in the front yard of a home that I assume was his. The tree’s branches were thick and bare, leaving a skeletal view of the sky. I could tell Midway Airport was close by because the planes flying overhead looked as if they were going to land on the roofs of the nearby houses. In the front window of the house there was a small sign that said “Happy Halloween.”
Just one block west and six blocks north of there in a garage in the 6100 block of South Kildare, Alonso Villarreal, Roberto Rivera, Noel Casares, and Luis Santillian were bound with duct tape and shot execution style at around 8:30 pm on September 3rd. The killings appeared to be drug related and the police found multiple weapons on the scene. As we drove there, X told me that of all the places we’ve been this is the one that really scared him to visit. He said it was a cartel drug house and that those guys mean business. They don’t mess around. He was relieved by the fact that the house couldn’t be a drug house anymore after this incident, but was still uneasy. First we drove by the front of the house to get a look at it and count off lots so that we could find the right garage. It was a nice brick house in a neighborhood where all the lots were well taken care of and the neighborhood houses were decorated for the fall holidays. Red couches and blue recycling bins flanked the garage where the execution happened. There was a small gash in the lower left hand corner of the garage door that X pointed out. He said it might be a bullet hole, but he wasn’t sure. Kids toys were strewn out in backyard of the house, but it looked like they were left there unintentionally, as if the residents up and left in a hurry. Despite X’s concern, we made it out unscathed and headed to our next location.
18-year-old Luis Perez was killed on the corner of 57th Street and Sawyer Avenue when a group approached him in a car, shouted gang slurs, and then shot him. Police responded to the call around 4:40 pm and found Perez with a gunshot wound to the cheek. Sawyer was a sleepy street just one black off of busy Kedzie Avenue. When we pulled up, a man and woman were coming out of the front door of the house on the corner where the incident happened. Their home was white wood with a huge porch lined with potted plants. They took a bit of time to make it down the front stairs and walk off, so X and I sat in the car and waited.
At this point it was close to lunchtime so if we were going to press on, we needed to eat. X knew about a good little neighborhood joint on Kedzie and 58th Street called Nicky’s so we stopped and had some lunch there. There was a policewoman eating at a table by herself. X joked, “See another display of the cop diet.” I asked why she was alone and he told me that she was a sergeant and that lots of officers on days have to ride alone because of the shortage of police. They need more coverage so they have to go out on their own. He said that was why he wanted to get off days. He felt that he was less effective when he had no one to back him up. After we were filled with greasy food, we continued on our way.
The next location was close by in the 5800 block of South Campbell where 17-year-old Adolfo Guijardo-Soria was standing outside at a block party when he was struck in the head by gunfire. On the corner where he was killed, was a large hand written block club sign with kids hand prints in all different colors that read “NO speeding, litering (misspelled on sign), drug use, soliciting, loud music after hours, gang activity.” Under which it said in big bubble letters, “Drive slow. Kids at play.” Behind the sign on the corner lot, was a house that was under construction. Four or five men were moving materials in and out. Passing through my frame without a single look in my direction. Low on the fence that surrounded the property was a small bouquet of white plastic flowers. They must have been part of a memorial that was left there.
The location we went to next was one that I have passed up several times for various reasons. Once there were people sitting on the front stoop and another time there were a group of kids hanging out near a van that was parked in front of the house. While X was afraid of the cartel, I was afraid of this location in the 6800 block of South Wood Street where on the 31st of July 2-year-old Aniya Crockett died from injuries sustained from child abuse. I knew that there were other kids living in the house because I saw them on the porch, and I knew that the mother of the child was not the one that was responsible for her death. An investigation by the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services was opened on one of Crockett’s mother’s friends. I felt horrible pointing my camera at the house and photographing where a family, most likely torn, resided. It didn’t appear that there was anyone home, but I tried to make my images as quickly as possible. I noticed a sticker in the front window of the home. It was slightly torn and it read, “Don’t shoot. I want to grow up.” My heart sank.
From here we went to another location I had been by a few times before. The first time I was there, I photographed the house where James Evan was stabbed and killed not realizing that 18-year-old Shaudee Nance was killed on the sidewalk in front of the house right next door in the 7000 block of South Hermitage Avenue. When I went back, it was a half-day of school and there were a group of children on the sidewalk in front of the house right on the sidewalk where he was shot. This time it was quiet except for the voice of a man in the backyard of the next house down. Two tiny yellow chairs like the kind that you might see in a kindergarten classroom were on the sidewalk in front at the site. It was hard to look at all the indications of young children in the neighborhood and think about the violence that just this one block sustained over the summer.
Our last location for the day was in the 6400 block of South Morgan Street where Theresa Russell was found shot to death over Labor Day weekend. The site fell in front of a row of identical brick two-flats. The one directly behind the sidewalk where she was found had an orange sticker on the front door announcing that the utilities were going to be turned off. The house next door had tall unkempt grass and weeds that grown so big that someone had placed beer can over some of the taller brush. The grass between the street and the sidewalk was filled with empty bottles of booze, fliers and discarded chip bags. X said he wanted to go check something out and threw me the keys to the car. He told me to start it and he would be right there. When I got in this is what I saw.
He found it on the ground and placed it there to make me laugh.
After this outing I only have 2 more sites to photograph. I am slated to go out Friday morning to finish up.
Monday, October 18, 2010
I woke up early Saturday morning and pulled up Chicago Breaking News to find that two people were shot overnight on the West Side right smack dab in the middle of where we were headed to photograph. One of the shootings was in the 4800 block of West Jackson and the other was only one block away in the 4800 block of West Gladys. Not knowing what X would want to do, rather than just printing out the West Side sites, I printed out all the ones I had left to visit and thought I would let X make the call as to whether it was a good idea to head that way. He thought that it might actually be a great opportunity. After such a crazy night, people might be laying low. As anti-intuitive going towards the violence to avoid it might seem, it was not the first time it worked in our favor, so after stopping for some coffee, we headed west.
Our first location was in the 5100 block of West Monroe where Brian Daniel was shot and killed in mid-August while playing a game of cards with a group of friends. He was standing on the corner when three male assailants approached and opened fire. A 15-year-old boy at the scene was also struck by gunfire. On the corner was a large apartment building with three signs on one side announcing 24-hour video surveillance. Two of the ground floor windows were broken and were boarded up from the inside. As we were photographing a group of three young boys (maybe 10-years-old) walked up. They asked why we were taking pictures. X told them that someone was killed there. Their eyes widened. They didn’t know anything about someone being killed there. X asked them if they stayed near by. They all said no. They stood by us for the rest of the time that I photographed and asked all kinds of questions about the homicide and the purpose of the pictures. When we left, they continued on their way, walking in their tiny pack south on Leamington.
The next location was close, but we didn’t realize how close until we started looking at the surrounding addresses. Ronnie Peterson was shot and killed in the 5000 block of West Monroe in front of a building just 3 lots off the northeast side of the same corner. Just six days after Daniel was killed, Peterson was sitting in his car when another vehicle pulled up next to him and fired into the car killing him. Both shootings are believed to be gang related. Since the young boys walked off, the block was quiet except for one man that stood on the sidewalk about half way down the block watching us. He didn’t move a muscle the whole time. He just positioned himself with his legs shoulder length apart and his arms crossed and stared.
After leaving here, we went to the 4800 block of West Van Buren where Harvey Space, who was on parole, was shot to death as he sat in his car near his home. He was sitting in his car about 9:15 a.m. when someone pulled up nearby in a four-door brown car, got out, and shot at Space several times through the front windshield of his car. The attacker got back into the car and it drove off. His car was parked in front of a red stone two-flat that appeared to be abandoned at first. After looking more closely I saw that the front door had a slab of plywood over it, but all the windows were intact and there were air conditioning units in the windows on both floors. About half way down the block there were three people standing in the street near a car. They paid us no mind when we drove by and were even less interested in why we might be photographing.
The site of Kirk McCullough’s death was in the 4400 block of West Madison. He was found shot to death in his car near the banquet hall that he was employed by as a bouncer. According to Google street view images, at the time of his death he was parked in front of what was B.M. Services. The location is now the B&B Sports Bar. It is new enough to have a banner announcing the name. An older bar right next door was painted red with big white lettering reading “Born Losers.” Across the wide four-lane road from them is an abandoned lot where 15 to 20 drunks were mulling around with their bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. It was only 8:30 in the morning. Among all the broken glass on the sidewalk, there was a dope bag with little elephants on it. X said he would bet that that was part of the reason for the homicide. Not that specific bag, but dope in general. The news report said the shooting was believed to be gang related. X and I attempted to photograph this location last time we were out, but after pulling up and watching someone get served from a car parked directly in front of B&B and seeing another man sitting in a van parked in the lot next to us watching us watch the transaction, we decided to come back.
From there we drove to the 4400 block of West Wilcox where Terrance Jackson was shot and killed on the street near a vacant lot. It was on the same side of the street on the other end of the block from where Wesley Taylor was killed earlier in the summer. This block also houses the Hefferan Elementary School that takes up half of the south side of the street. On the opposite corner from the site there was a newer looking building where 5 or 6 boys were hanging out in the hallway with the front door open. As I photographed, a young woman walked down the sidewalk into my frame. As she got closer, she spread her arms and posed for me to take her picture. We laughed; she smiled and wished us a good day. X found another dope bag on the ground. This one was solid black.
The sign across the street from the site of Jackson's murder
The next site was in the 4000 block of West Jackson where 18-year-old Anthony Carter was standing outside his home waiting for his grandmother to return from a neighborhood store with snacks. As his grandmother approached with potato chips and pop, she heard the sound of eight or nine gunshots fired. Carter was shot multiple times in the back. When officers arrived at the scene they found him unresponsive. As we turned onto the block, X pointed out that there were two dope spots running out of houses on either side of the street near the corner. Just a half block away was the site. The house was a beautiful grey stone with a well-manicured adjacent lot. A tall wrought iron fence surrounded both the house and the lot. Amongst all the garbage that blew into the grass between the street and the sidewalk, a small bunch of stark white flowers popped up in contrast. I wondered whether it was a memorial to the boy.
The following location was on the playground of the Delano Elementary School in the 3900 block of West Wilcox. Reggie Coles was watching or playing basketball at about 12:30 am on July 17th when shots were fired into the crowd. He was struck in the face and killed. At the site there were two basketball courts in a large blacktopped area next to the back doors to the school. The warm sun was casting long shadows from the hoops across the bare ground. The immediate area was quiet, but not far away at the corner of Wilcox and Springfield a group of boys were hanging out in the street and on the sidewalk. From where I was it appeared to have all the makings of a dope spot. While we were photographing a young man approached us and asked X if he could direct him to the drug treatment center. When X didn’t know where it was, the young man looked worried. He wandered off. X thought that in such an open space surrounded by buildings on three sides that there must still be evidence of the shooting. We walked around the school looking at the walls and windows. It was way high up on the school doors that we found a bullet hole. X and I talked about how sad it is that kids have to go to school in a place where there is evidence of violence. It’s not fair that a school has to look like a war zone. As we passed, X pointed out the corner with all the boys hanging out. He named a few of them and told me about some of their prior arrests. He also confirmed my suspicions that it was in fact a drug corner.
The next spot was in the 700 block of North Monticello Avenue where Isaac Davis III was found shot in the head in the street at 1:00 in the afternoon on August 12th. X warned me that this street was busy and that by now it might be difficult to photograph. He really knows the area and was completely right. We pulled up and parked in front of a Head Start across the street from the address of the site. On the corner just north of us there was an active dope spot where a group of men were idling. Down the street in the opposite direction, a group of young men and at least one woman spilled out onto the porch of a house and were arguing loudly. I set up my camera to photograph down the street, making sure not to point it at anyone’s house, and tried to settle my nerves. A man came to the fence in front of the house beside us and began to talk to X. He asked X what we were doing and X told him it was for Google maps. The man responded, “Is that that compurter thing?” X nodded. The man said, “Shit and they send you to the West Side?” X said he was a police officer and had worked in the district. The man then recognized him and said that X had helped him out once. He thanked him profusely. I finally looked up at him and saw that he was leaning on the chain link fence with a bottle in a brown paper bag. I tried not to stare, but it looked like he was missing an eye. I kept taking little peeks at him as he was talking to X. He mentioned that he just likes his drink and that he doesn’t bother anyone but gets his ass beat all the time. I was looking through the lens when X said, “OK, are you ready?” I picked up the camera and got in the car. This was an odd thing for him to say, so I figured something was wrong or felt off. We quickly went to the car and pulled off. As we drove away I saw two of the men from the dope spot walking in our direction. As soon as we passed them, they turned around and went back to where they came.
We still had some time and so we headed to the 2700 block of West 24th Street in Little Village where someone shot Jennifer Alvarado from a passing car while she was in the passenger seat of another moving vehicle. She was the last casualty of the summer. X said the area was plagued with gang activity. He pointed out a house where a bunch of gang members live with their girlfriends. The address where the car that Alvarado was in came to a stop was in front of a large three-flat. A man was reading the paper on the porch of the hose next door. I was about to get out of the car when a man walked through the breezeway at the location and stood looking out at the street from behind the gate. He retreated to the back and we got out an began to photograph. I got in a few images before the man returned to the front of the building and sat on the front porch. He watched us, but seemed unconcerned.
The last location we went to was in the 1100 block of West Madison Street in the West Loop. Paul Harris was shot across the street from a bar following an argument with an unknown assailant who took out a gun and shot him shot just after 1:00 a.m. on the 31st of August. This stretch of Madison Street is the thriving business district for the area and the site where Harris was shot and killed is right in the heart of the area’s nightlife. The West Loop is full of old factory buildings that have been converted to lofts and condominiums for a wealthy demographic. This site was far from the cities most problemed areas and therefore got much more press than some of the other murders. The CTA bus shell on the corner where he was killed had an advertisement on one side for bottled water and on the other side was an ad for Bebe.
After this outing, I only have 17 more locations to visit. I hope to be done with the photographing portion of the project by next week. Here's what's left.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
When I woke up it wasn’t quite light out yet. In an effort to chip away a few more sites on the West Side, X picked me up at 6:45. When I got in his car, the sun was just beginning to rise and throw its burning orange rays onto the world. Skipping coffee for fear that we might miss the window between when the sun comes up and when the dope spots begin manning for the day, we headed west.
X decided that we should go to the 4900 block of West Iowa Street first. It was right on the other side of the alley we visited on Wednesday where Domingo Hernandez was shot and killed. On Wednesday, the block was teeming with people, but hopefully it would be early enough to get there before all the drug traffic began. As we hoped it was quiet when we pulled up. It was on this block that 15-year-old Troy Brown was shot and killed at 2:00 in the afternoon in the beginning of August. The address fell on the sidewalk in front of one of seven or eight identical brick homes. The house next door had three “For Rent” signs, one for each of the apartments in the building. We were not there for long before a woman came out of the house at the address and asked what we were doing. X told her I was a photographer. She asked what I was doing photographing her house. He said I wasn’t, I was just photographing down the sidewalk. She said ok and went back inside. After a few more minutes, the far end of the block seemed to spring to life. One young man walked around the corner, saw my camera and put his head down and quickly walked away. A few other men began to gather on the corner and then the lookout on the bike came out. It couldn’t have been later than 7:15 and this spot was getting up and running. X and I think we may have seen an exchange. It must have been the first sale of the morning.
From there we headed to the 500 block of North Leamington where James Gardner was sitting in a vehicle when a gunman who shot and killed him approached him. The spot was on the street in front of a fire hydrant. It seems like so many of the homicides that happen while someone is sitting in a vehicle happen in front of a fire hydrant. The only thing I can deduce is that the hydrant is always an open parking spot so if they are in the car waiting, they can just pull right in. While looking for Leamington (in an area that I dubbed L Town since every street began with an L) we passed several police cars and security guards lining the street under the el along Lake Street. We finally figured out what was going on when we passed a film crew at Lake and Latrobe. Luckily, the site was only a few blocks north of all the action, so the friendly local residents thought we were part of the film crew. We didn’t correct them. One man walking down the street with a small suitcase in tow told us to make sure we take pictures of his house. I find it interesting how much reactions differ dependent upon what people think you are up to.
The next location was in the 4900 block of West Superior Street where Jeremy Johnson was shot and killed. The site was an empty plot of land next to a church. The church was housed in a single story cement block building with virtually no windows. There was a bit of discrepancy between the location code we had and the breaking news report, but after a little investigation, we were able to figure out that the incident occurred on the back end of the lot almost where it met the alley. There was a new gate that closed off the back of the lot to the alley that didn’t look like it was there at the time of Johnson’s murder. We deduced this from small pieces of red tape that we found still hanging from some of the interior borders of the location on fences and pipes. It seemed odd to me that there was still so much red tape around the site after more than two months. Not only is it sloppy police work, but also to me it seems like it would have the same effect on the community as the “broken window theory.” To me it says that someone was killed there and that no one cares enough about the neighborhood to dispose of the evidence.
It was not far from here that 15-year-old Darrell McKinney was shot and killed in the crossfire while one man chased another firing shots through the streets of a busy block party in late August. McKinney didn’t even live there. His mother dropped him off to hang out with some friends and he never made it home. On our way to the location that was in the 900 block of North Harding, we passed a group of boys hanging out on the corner. One of them was facing away from us, but facing a busy street, openly peeing near a parked van.
I noticed VPS panels on one of the houses we passed. X explained to me that they are gauged steel windows that are used to protect empty buildings from squatters and people who strip the metal and copper to sell it. He said they are extremely successful in keeping people out. We finally arrived at the site of McKinney’s death, which was outside of a small apartment building on the corner of Harding and Augusta. There was garbage strewn all over the ground. I nice concrete urn in the grass between the road and the sidewalk that was meant to be used as a planter was doubling as a garbage can. High up on a signpost was a yellow “speed hump ahead” sign with a bullet hole through it. The gunman clearly wasn’t aiming his shots to have hit that drastically far from his target. While we were there, a young girl came out of the building with her backpack on. She looked like she might have been around his age.
Between there and the next location, we passed more people in yellow safety vests. At first we thought they were more security for the filming, but X pointed out the writing on their backs. They were what are known as “safe passage.” They are volunteers that line the streets in the mornings and afternoons to see that kids make it to school safely. X said they are really great and that although they can’t really stop conflicts, they are there to enable a quick response time and be the eyes and ears the police need in case of any trouble.
Our next location was in the 4300 block of West Carroll where Furda West was found strangled to death in the alley. The site was between a large empty lot and a small single-family home with a big back porch and yard. It was quiet except for the barking of a dog from inside the house. X said that West was most likely a sex worker because this was a popular alley for men to drive into and park with prostitutes. As we pulled out of the alley to leave, we passed a big new wooden gate behind a house that had a sign with a smiley face on it. Under the face it read, “Smile! You’re on hooker cam.”
The last site we visited was in the 2800 block of West Washington Avenue where Maria Martinez was found beaten and burned in the alley behind New Parie Hotel. The entryway to the inn had a sign that said, “Transients Welcome.” It was starting to really warm up outside, so many of the windows in the building on the alley side were open, revealing a multitude of colored clothing hanging from windows to dry.
After today I only have 9 more locations on the West Side and 15 on the South Side to visit. The leaves are starting to change and it is starting to look like fall out there.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
“West Side ok?” After a few seconds the text bubble popped up on my screen, “Def. Whatev is good for you.” It was on. X and I were confirmed for Wednesday morning photographing on the West Side. He would pick me up at 7:30 a.m.
Most of the sites on the West Side have been left unscathed by my slow chipping away. Police Woman C doesn’t want to go there if she doesn’t have to and X said we would have to figure out some sort of way to get an on-duty officer over with us so that we would be safe. X has a level head on him and when he doesn’t think we should go somewhere, I trust his instincts.
Today, apparently, the West Side on our own was a fine idea. I climbed into his car and handed him a printout of all the locations I had left on the West Side. He scanned them and pointed out a few that would be ok now. We took off in hopes of getting to as many sites as possible before everyone was out and about. It was going to be a gorgeous 75º fall day.
The first location was in the street in front of a free standing 3-flat with two front doors in the 3000 block of West 5th Avenue where Johnnie Dyer was standing when someone approached him and shot him several times. We pulled up across the street in front of the building. There was a car parked out front and as soon as I went to get out, a woman came out of the building and got into the car. She took a long time rifling through the backseat. She finally started the car, but sat in it for about 10 minutes before a man came out of the apartment and got in too. They pulled off leaving me with an unobstructed view of building. In the meantime, X and I were watching the action on the block. There was and abando directly ahead of us across a large grassy area (See image below. We are the purple blip and the arrow is pointing to the abando). There was a young man sitting on the building’s front steps, another was riding a bike around in circles, another two walked out to talk to someone in a car that was blocked by a van so we couldn’t see it. When it pulled off, we saw that it was a Mercedes (yellow blip). We watched a man in a white utility van pull up nearby, walk down the street and meet one of them so they were hidden in a yard for a few seconds. He retreated to his van and left. It looked like we saw at least two people get served before a cop car came flying down the street. There were a few hoots, the boy on the steps got up and walked into the street. The officer was gone as quickly as he came. It was clearly a dope spot. After we were parked there for a good 15 minutes, I got out of the car to photograph. All the action ceased and everyone stared at me. X said it looked like they had no idea what to think about me being there. On my last few images, a black cat ran by the front of the building. X and I laughed about it being a bad omen. After I got in the car and we started to look at the addresses again, plotting our next move, the young men who had still been watching us continued with business as usual.
Our next location in the alley at 2800 West Washington was actually a bust. I had the wrong address and didn’t realize until I got home. Oddly though, there was another cat that ran into my frame there too. While I was photographing there, X and I could hear over the radio that there was a shooting. There was one person reported shot, then two. I could hear police and ambulance sirens not too far off. A third victim was reported shot and a call for another ambulance was sent out. A minute later, I heard more sirens. Until then, I didn’t make the connection that those sirens were for the shooting that we were listening to over the radio. I looked up from my camera and asked X if that was the case. He nodded, and said, “Welcome to the West Side.” It was 8:30 in the morning. Here is the news report.
We decided to try to get to any of the addresses we had that were close to the shooting. X said that no one in the area would be out. He headed towards the 4100 block of West Grenshaw Street where 44-year-old Anthony Clemons was also shot and killed at 8:30 in the morning back in August. I didn’t realize how close we really were to the scene of the current shooting until we pulled around the corner to find that two police SUVs about a block from each other cordoned off the street from any thru traffic. From X’s car I could see the yellow and red police tape surrounding the area. There was still chatter about the incident over the radio that was in the background as I photographed the street where Clemons was killed. “Male, black, 44” ssss “Shot in the face” ssss “Shot in the buttocks” sssss “Male black, 60” ssss “He’s going to Stroger” ssss “Mt. Sinai.” X was listening more intently because what seemed to me to be out of nowhere, he said, “Oh…he’s gone.” One of the victims was declared dead at the hospital. The 4100 block of West Grenshaw was a mix of new and old buildings with a church right smack dab in the midst of them. The grassy areas between the street and the sidewalk were brimming with trash (empty liquor bottles, chip bags, cigarette boxes). X found a Batman dope bag on the ground close to one that had the Superman logo on it.
Our next site was in the 300 block of South Kostner Avenue where Donzel Swanigan was found shot in the neck near a large house party after someone called in a report of a battery in progress. He was killed in a vacant lot next to a large building with holes in a few of the first floor windows. Across the street there were only three buildings on the whole block and two of them were abandos. X began to explain the “Broken Window Theory” to me.
Broken Window Theory
At the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. And also, "untended" behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls. A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other's children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened, become more rowdy. Families move out, unattached adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The merchant asks them to move; they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. Panhandlers approach pedestrians.
At this point it is not inevitable that serious crime will flourish or violent attacks on strangers will occur. But many residents will think that crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise, and they will modify their behavior accordingly. They will use the streets less often, and when on the streets will stay apart from their fellows, moving with averted eyes, silent lips, and hurried steps. "Don't get involved." For some residents, this growing atomization will matter little, because the neighborhood is not their "home" but "the place where they live." Their interests are elsewhere; they are cosmopolitans. But it will matter greatly to other people, whose lives derive meaning and satisfaction from local attachments rather than worldly involvement; for them, the neighborhood will cease to exist except for a few reliable friends whom they arrange to meet.
(Adapted from a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article)
**Interestingly, a case of broken windows caused an older woman to shoot two 12 and 13-year-old boys earlier this month. See article here. **
From here, we went to the 300 block of South Kildare Avenue where Demetrius Pitts was on the sidewalk when he was shot in the chest. X called the area K-Town because all the street names begin with a K. He had a hard time finding Kildare despite having once worked in the area. Imagine being someone in a tactical unit coming in for the night and trying to find the way to a call. We passed a few spots where kids yelled out as we approached. The West Side seemed to be full of dope spots. The spot where Pitts was killed was right next to the gated backyard of a nice blue house with a manicured lawn. The garbage cans were lined up in a perfect row beyond the gate. The immediate area was very quiet, but a block south from where we were photographing there was a group of young men hanging out in the street.
The site of Wesley Taylor’s death was on another vacant lot just a few blocks away in the 4400 block of West Wilcox. Taylor was involved in a fight at an end of summer block party when he was chased into an alley and gunned down. The lot, which had several trucks parked on it, was situated across the street from a school. A young man on a bike circled around and then came through my frame. He slowed down, put his bike up against the fence of the building the lot sat next to and went inside. Down the alley, a man stood directly in the middle and watched us. There were two more sites on the same block, but X didn’t think we could get them at this time. He knew they were both drug spots and suggested we get up at 5 or 6 and try to get them before they were manned.
Next was the site of the incident from the beginning of July involving 57-year-old George Esco. Esco was hospitalized after he was beaten on the sidewalk in the 5300 block of West North Avenue. It was not until 8 weeks later that he succumbed to his injuries. The address fell in front of a liquor store on a busy 4-lane road. I got quite a bit of attention from passing traffic when I set up my camera in the median.
After leaving busy North Avenue, X and I headed towards the 7000 block of West Grand Avenue. The whole ride west, we were trying to figure out if this site was legitimately in the city of Chicago since it was so far west. After passing by the Radio Flyer Factory and quite possibly the largest Radio Flyer on earth, we finally came to the address. It was a half a block east of a sign welcoming us to the city of Chicago and the Montclare neighborhood. It at this address that Edward Ramos was killed when three men kicked in the door to his house and fired shots at him. The residence was tucked between two storefronts. There were three windows at street level around knee high. The center window had a beautiful pink flower arrangement on it. Whether or not it was meant to be, it seemed to serve as a memorial to this man’s life.
X and I headed back to give one more site a shot. Domingo Hernandez and Troy Brown were killed just a few houses away from each other, but X said we could only get to the site of Hernandez’ murder in the alley behind a huge drug spot in the 4900 block of West Walton this time. Hernandez was killed and a 17-year-old boy shot while they were moving furniture into a van there. There was still yellow police tape hanging from a tree next to the garage. It was hard to see among all the garbage that was strewn about. X parked his car for a quick get away. I thought we seemed like we were fine, but he knew the area much better. As soon as we pulled out of the mouth of the alley I could see his concern. The drug spot at the corner house was so busy that there were people spilling out onto the street. The spot where Brown was killed was right there and completely inaccessible. We would have to come back. That was good for today.
Monday, October 4, 2010
On the 30th of May, officers responded to shots fired at 5115 South Laflin Street on Chicago's South Side at about 12:30 a.m. and found Murphy with a gunshot wound to his head. He was taken to Stroger Hospital in critical condition where he was pronounced dead at 1:10 a.m.
Murphy was one of seven people killed over Memorial Day weekend.
Photographing at the site the first time & the second time
Friday, October 1, 2010
Police woman C got in contact with me Monday night to let me know that she had some free time this week to take me out to photograph. We settled on meeting on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. in the usual place. On Wednesday morning C met me and told me that another guy, let’s call him Y, was coming around with the car and was going to join us. When he arrived, C climbed into the backseat. She would be navigation for the day. I hopped in the front. We were Back of the Yards and Englewood bound.
Our first site was in the 1500 block of West 51st Street where David Johnson was found dead in a vehicle with a gunshot wound to the head just after 7 p.m. on August 29th. The address fell in the street directly in front of a squat, little, one-story concrete block building that serves as the Life Changing Ministries International Church. The building was painted white and lavender with big block lettering announcing the name of the church and the pastor both on the façade and on the east side of the building that abutted a vacant lot. On the opposite side was an empty storefront that had security bars over the windows and door on which a few “NO LOITERING, NO TRESSPASSING, NO SOLICITING” signs were posted. On the corner, just two doors away was a liquor store. I have no real statistics for this statement, but I would have to say that it seems like there were a good number of homicides this summer that happened in or near liquor stores. I’ll have to look into that.
The next location was just around the corner in the 5100 block of South Laflin where 19-year-old Darius Murphy was shot and killed over Memorial Day weekend. He was the second casualty of the summer. We pulled up in front of a van that was parked on the side of the street blaring its music. It got turned down very quickly as soon as we stepped out of the car. I visited this site earlier in the summer but was unhappy with my images, so there I was standing across from the same 4-story brick walk-up where the same apartment was still for rent on the third floor. What in June was a memorial of Grey Goose vodka bottles was now a grassy patch strewn with bits of garbage. There was a covered motorcycle parked just inside the front gate of the building. C stayed with the car and Y stayed by my side.
We went from there to the 1400 block of West 54th Street where Tyrone Clark was shot and killed near his home. The address fell around the mouth of an alley next to a huge vacant lot. Just beyond the empty lot there was a large boarded up apartment building. There were about 15 boys in bright safety vests cleaning out brush and overgrowth around the sidewalk about half way down the block. When we pulled up and parked, they all looked up. Four of the boys were standing in a row staring at us as we got out of the car. They seemed intrigued by our presence. They appeared to be working their way towards the alley, so Y went to talk to them and ask them to steer clear of my camera for a little bit. They kindly agreed. A few weeks ago, X and I went to what we thought was the site of Tyrone Clark’s murder, but after more research we found that we were in the wrong place. I was sadly disappointed because I was so happy with the images I made. Here is the non-site of the first photographic venture to memorialize Tyrone.
The site of Laird Marble’s death in the 6100 block of South Bishop was also a site I visited earlier in the summer. Marble was shot and killed over Memorial Day weekend after a disagreement over a dice game. Just this past week, Curtis Marble was found hiding out in an abandoned building where he was arrested on charges that he killed Laird, his older brother. I thought that the site might be difficult to photograph given all the activity surrounding the incident in the past few days. I expected a negative response from the community, but what I found was completely opposite. Across the street from the site, there was a boarded up house. Two young men were in the front yard cleaning up brush and tree branches. C asked them how long the house has been abandoned. They began a conversation that continued the length of my photographing. A few houses down there were several young men on a porch. I could hear them talking. One of them thought I was with the FBI. One of the teenage boys came down onto the sidewalk and called to me. He asked what I was doing. I told him I was photographing the site of a homicide. He looked at me blankly and said, “Homicide?” I continued by explaining that it was the site where Laird Marble was killed. He looked down and retreated to the porch. I wondered if he knew Laird or how he felt about someone being killed across the street from where he lives. His response made me think that it was something that upset him. When we left, C told us about the conversation she had with the two men she was talking to. They explained to her that the block was like a family until Laird was killed and even worse that his brother was in jail for the murder. They said that they were all still trying to make sense of it and pull themselves and their community together. They were working hard to clean up the block in an effort to make it nicer for everyone.
From there we headed to the 800 block of West Marquette Road where Quanda Crider was found dead in an abandoned building. An autopsy determined that she died of strangulation and blunt force trauma from an assault. As we turned the corner onto Marquette, we looked for the address and couldn’t find it. There was a house that appeared to be sort of abandoned. There were orange crates stacked on the front porch that looked like makeshift seats. The front door was open and many of the windows were busted out, but the address didn’t match up. It had to be next door to it. We realized that the lot next to the house was a fresh demolition. Between July 16th, when her body was discovered, and now, the building must have been torn down leaving a dusty empty lot. Oddly, the garbage cans were lined up perfectly where the back of the building would be. Beyond the lot and across the alley, there was a family out of the back porch of their apartment building. The kids kept jumping ff the stairs into the frame of my photograph. Children were being dismissed from an elementary school about half a block away, so there was a constant stream of foot traffic both on the sidewalk in front of the lot and through the alley behind it.
Just a few blocks south and west of there in the 6800 block of South Morgan Street, DuJuan Johnson was found dead in a gangway with a gunshot wound to the head and a handgun in his hand. The gangway was on the property of an abandoned house that’s windows were boarded up. The house next door was for sale. There was a chain link fence with a gate that had chain and a pad lock to keep people out. The yard and gangway were all overgrown. There were beautiful pink flowers growing on the gate. Other than this abando and the vacant lot that it sat next to, the block was very nice. The opposite side of the street had carbon copy brick two-flats with front yards and manicured gardens. A small group of teenagers passed as I photographed. They must have been on their way home from school. It must have been a half-day. From this time on, there were kids outside everywhere. It was a beautiful day.
The next site was in the 500 block of West 70th Street where Andre Williams was shot and killed when a car rolled up and someone inside opened fire while he was hanging out with some friends under a viaduct taking refuge from the heat. Neighbors reported hearing up to 19 shots fired. Williams was the only one in the group that was hit. The viaduct was under the Metra train tracks. It was not dark and scary like many viaducts can be. The underside was all rusted and the concrete walls that had been painted white were lined with orange and brown watermarks. On one side of the tracks was a large apartment complex with a parking lot and on the other was a row of nice single-family homes. It was a quiet and peaceful place. The only person around was a man who rode by on his bike and wished me a good morning.
From there we headed due west to the quiet residential 7000 block of South Justine Street. It was here that Krystal Rodney and a man were fighting in what was described as a domestic-related argument at Rodney’s grandmother’s house when the man went to his vehicle, got a handgun, and shot her in the neck. It was a tree-lined street with well-kept single-family homes. It was so nice that the few boarded up houses seemed to even have a fresh coat of paint. They blended in with the other houses. I had to really look to pick them out. The sleepy block must have been home to an older population since there were no kids around on this gorgeous half a school day.
We drove to and passed up the site of Shaudee Nance’s murder close by in the 7000 block of South Hermitage. A group of elementary school aged kids were coming home from school and a woman at the residence was on the porch getting her mail. We also drove to and passed up the site of 2-year-old Aniya Crockett’s death from abuse. There was a group of teenage kids hanging out by a car right in front of the house.
The last place site was in front of a liquor store in the 6600 block of South Halsted. It was just around the corner from where Quanda Crider was found. We passed it earlier in the day, but there were lots of cars and people around. This time around things had settled down and I could get a clear shot of the site. The Norman’s Food & Liquor was right next to a busy corner gas station. This was yet another homicide in front of a liquor store. As I was finishing up photographing, a car pulled up with some spectacular rims. A man got out and walked in to the store. Y said he would hate to hit a pothole with those rims. As we pulled off a man in the gas station began to come towards the car yelling something I couldn’t make out. We quickly pulled out and away.
After today I have 41 more sites to visit.