Sunday, October 10, 2010
Wild, Wild West
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.