“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.