Category Archives: Crime

On the West Side, a teen’s death gets little attention

Antonio Fenner was one year older than Hadiya Pendleton, and was shot dead three days before she was.

And while Hadiya’s death gained national attention, symbolizing the epidemic of violence that has swept Chicago, the aftermath of Antonio’s killing may be more typical.

President Obama spoke of Hadiya in the State of the Union Address, and Michelle Obama attended her funeral, along with an array of public officials.  A $40,000 reward was established for information about her killing, police set up a hotline for tips, and an intensive investigation yielded the arrest of two men suspected of involvement with shooting Hadiya within two weeks.

After Antonio was shot in what reports suggest was a random act, friends and community members decorated the site of the shooting, and his funeral was standing room only, according to a February 13 WBEZ report, part of an ongoing effort by Columbia College journalism students to track the homicides of young people.

But no public officials have spoken out about the killing, and with little media attention, police hadn’t even contacted Fenner’s family since his death.

A police spokesman told WBEZ that there are hundreds of murder investigations underway in Chicago, and investigating officers may not have felt it was necessary to speak with the family.  Police had no idea of a motive in the shooting and no leads.

Fenner’s stepfather, wonders whether police are even trying to catch Antonio’s killer.

He describes the attitude of police toward young people in Garfield Park: “They’re just going to kill each other, and our job is just to come by and clean up.”

In a related report, Austin Talks explores the impact of violence.  They talk with Tali Raviv, a psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital who trains teachers, counselors, and community members to identify and help children traumatized by violence.

Without such help, children exposed to violence are prone to becoming violent themselves, she says.

Noting the high rate of young people in the juvenile justice system who have trauma histories, she says we are “creating this multi-generational violence loop.”

Austin Talks also speaks with David Elam of Fathers Who Care, a group that holds monthly meetings where teens can explore issues and connect with mentors.

“The angle on Hadiya Pendleton is really because she embodied so much of the promise of youth, but all of these youths should be viewed that way,” says Raviv.

A fresh look at Chicago’s gangs

It may be time to reexamine the conventional wisdom on Chicago’s gangs.

In the fifth part of In These Times’ series on “The Other Chicago,” Joel Handley talks with experts and sources on the street who argue that today’s black street gangs are highly unorganized, with no top-down control — and rarely involved with criminal activity.

The 8-Tray Stones on 83rd Street is one of the loose block-by-block groupings that are typical today.  It’s a Black P. Stones “set” with somewhere around 400 members consisting of young kids to grandfathers. “At an early age, the men in the neighborhood learn the Stones handshake or gang sign, but that’s the extent of their affiliation.”

The traditional criminal enterprises engaged in by street gangs are less of an option now – extortion has suffered as small businesses have closed and construction has dried up; drug sales are less lucrative as the wholesale price of illegal drugs has risen.   Perhaps 10 percent of today’s gang members are involved in those activities, according to Lance Williams of NEIU.

More than 70 percent of self-described gang members are chronicially unemployed, Williams estimates, in a city where 50 percent of working-age black males are jobless.

“People don’t just go to the streets,” says John Hagedorn of UIC. “They’re getting marginal work, losing it, coming back to the streets. There’s a huge set with one foot in and one foot out. Former gang members are trying to move on and having a hard time of it. People that were working their way up got pushed back down.”

And much of the violence categorized by police as gang-related is not that at all, Handley’s sources maintain.  Von Stone, a hospital case manager, says it’s easy to “sweep it under the run” by calling a shooting gang-related “when they have no idea.”

Much of this violence is actually interpersonal, reflecting a “Wild West mentality,” says a member of the 8-Trays.  He argues (as we previously noted Whet Moser arguing) that the proliferation of violence is tied to the demolition of high-rise projects and the focus on incarceration as a crime deterrent.

Stone, himself a shooting victim, founded Hip Hope, a program that helps surviviors of violence find housing, rehabilitation, and support services.  “Everybody talks about how many die, but nobody talks about the survivors,” he says.  Last year the program lost its state funding.  Now it’s looking for donors.

Police deployment as a civil rights issue

At AustinTalks, Serethea Matthews reports that many Austin residents have stopped calling 911, “since they don’t expect police to show up.”  (The article was also published in the Chicago Defender.)  When they do show up, they may drive by an incident and do nothing, residents say.

Information from a FOIA request showed that more police cars are routinely dispatched in response to 911 on the North Side compared to Austin – though Austin has three times as many violent crimes. For calls about “shots fired,” more than two times as many cars are dispatched on the Near North compared to Austin.

The Central Austin Neighborhood Association and the ACLU sued the city in 2011, charging that disproportionate allocation of police resources violates the civil rights of Austin residents, she reports.

The impact of violence, and some causes

In the second installment of the Chicago Reporter’s Too Young to Die series, Kari Lydersen talks with Ondelee Perteet, a 17-year-old West Side resident paralyzed in a 2009 shooting.  Ondelee and his mother talk about the tremendous personal costs of violence: Ondelee struggles to maintain his positive attitude, and his mother struggles to care for him and pay the bills.  Photos are by Carlos Javier Ortiz.

(Classmates of Ondelee interviewed him for a video by the Westside Writing Project, another Local Reporting Initiative participant, in 2010.)

Last week the first report in the series showed that Chicago’s homicide rate is double that of New York City.  At Chicago Magazine, Whet Moser has a fascinating piece looking at differences between the two cities that may help account for that fact.

New York has less than a third the number of gang members that Chicago has, and various experts suggest this could have to do with public housing and incarceration policies.  The CHA’s Plan For Transformation displaced a hundred thousand people, while a massive public housing renovation program in NYC was the “exact reverse,” carried out without displacement.  Chicago’s approach ended up replicating the segregation that was originally built into the CHA high-rises.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s incarceration rate rose sharply in the early 90s and has stayed near that level, which New York has seen a marked decrease in incarceration.  (The greatest expansion of gang activity here was a result of increased incarceration of youth, according to sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh.)

That creates what one expert calls a “feedback loop.”  “Young men were shuffled back and forth between two environments that were ideal for the organization and growth of gangs.,” writes Moser. “While New York was rebuilding, Chicago was continuing the shuffle.”

Another Reporter piece looks at the mechanics of incarcerating teens as adults; Illinois is one of the few states that does so.  In gun possession cases, most teens were imprisoned without having been clearly identified as having a gun; indeed, guns were actually recoverd in less than half the cases.  Now the General Assembly is considering legislation to incarcerate 15- and 16-year-olds as adults.

Chicago leads in youth homicides

Chicago leads the nation in youth homicides, with a rate more than double that of New York or LA, according to a new article at the Chicago Reporter.  Nearly 80 percent occur in black communities on the South, Southwest, and West Sides.

Efforts by police and politicians – ranging from tactical gang squads to the CPS “Culture of Calm” program – have failed to signficantly reduce shootings and deaths.  Advocates say curbing youth violence will require addressing underlying causes, inclucing extreme segregation, lack of jobs, and violent, underfunded public schools.

Kari Lydersen and Carlos Javier Ortiz profile groups that are working against violence, including the rap group Spitfire and Fearless Leading by the Youth, and the Reporter features Ortiz’s photos of communities dealing with violence.  (See our post on The Sorrowing City for more on his photography.)

Nina’s story: prostitution and recovery

In a new audio report at Gapers Block, Sarah Ostman tells the story of “Nina,” the first woman to enter the WINGS program, which offers treatment services for women facing prostitution charges in Cook County.

Nina began selling sex at age 13, after becoming addicted to cocaine.  That’s the typical age that girls enter prostitution, according to Jody Raphael of DePaul University.  At first it seemed glamorous, Nina says – then the violence began.  Over 33 years, she served three prison terms and numerous stints in jail.  She had seven children and lost custody of all of them.  She tried several times to get sober.

Along with new state laws protecting underage girls and sex trafficking victims, the WINGS program reflects a new understanding of prostitution, long considered a victimless crime.  Most prostitues were coerced into the industry at a young age.  And if prostitutes are more victims than criminals, perhaps they should get treatment rather than prison time, Ostman says.

We follow Nina through work readiness sessions at the Career Advancement Network, some of which are emotionally charged – and to a graduation ceremony for the program, where the women sing “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”

A year later, she’s yet to land a job – she volunteers at a food pantry in Back of the Yards – and has faced a number of challenges, including the threat of foreclosure and utility cutoffs.  But she’s got a suportive fiance, she’s reconnected with her mother, and she’s developing relationships with her children.  And she’s committed to staying sober and working toward her goals.