A cop opens up

Are shootings linked to demolished housing projects?

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By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader

On a sunny early afternoon on Tuesday, May 3, I ventured outside to absorb the mild spring temperatures. As soon as I stepped on the sidewalk, a Chicago Police Officer pulled up and headed towards me. I wasn’t in trouble, but he initiated a conversation that at first, left me uneasy.

He looked at me and asked, “What are you? A writer or journalist?” I told him that I was a journalist.

As it turned out, this cop was fed up. One day before our meeting, three gunshots were fired outside our offices at 64th Street and King Drive. Two weeks prior, about 9 gunshots were fired near the Chicago Crusader office in the evening hours.

So far this year, there have been 1,142 people who have been shot in Chicago. This year, the shootings have dominated headlines and evening newscasts so much that some people have become numb to crime.

The latest gunfire on Tuesday was business as usual for this cop. Because of his position, I’m not publishing his name, but I found it odd that a cop would approach me to vent his frustration about the ever-increasing gun violence in Woodlawn.

He kept it real. He was frustrated. As bullets flew through the air on Tuesday, children and teenagers were nearby, but no one was hurt. Like many incidents, this cop’s search for the suspect turned up empty. It was another case where the shooter got away and remained on the neighborhood’s gritty streets.

He has patrolled the neighborhood for many years and the shootings have begun to take its toll on his patience. Because of his openness and the fact that he is a law enforcement official, I honored his wishes not to publish his name. However, it was a rare moment to see a cop who works in a tough neighborhood, speak openly about his job. Cops come and go or remain mostly silent while patrolling.

A cop venting his frustrations is something this journalist doesn’t see very often, so I must admit I was taken by surprise.

Because of the impromptu conversation, I was without my reporter’s pad or recorder, so I wasn’t able to get many direct quotes. Perhaps being caught off guard helped the cop get some things off his chest.

So the frustrated cop started the conversation by pointing to our Crusader sign and asked, “What do you crusade for?” I told him, equality, employment and education.

He said he was tired of the shootings, but also the people who don’t say anything or “snitch” on criminals. The cop challenged me to publish this side of the story and the Black on Black violence on the South Side.

As we’re talking, a group of young Black men were roaming through the Parkway Gardens apartments across the street.

“You see them? Why are they not at work or doing something?,” he asked. The cop said he mopped floors and went back to school to get a better job and a better life.

As he spoke, you could feel the intense emotions in his voice. He pointed to buildings, pounded on his chest and made other gestures to express perhaps repressed feelings about the persistent crime in the Black community.

He struck a chord when he turned the conversation towards gangs. He questioned why the city tore down the infamous Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor Homes housing projects. These developments restricted shootings and crimes to a controlled area, he said. After they were closed, many gangs in Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor Homes flooded the city and took their violence to other neighborhoods on the South and West sides.

It’s a theory that many attribute to crime in cities where public housing developments have been demolished. Miami Gardens, a predominately Black, middle class suburb in Miami, saw a spike in shootings and homicides after authorities closed one crime-infested development, forcing residents to flee to other areas. While crime increased in Miami Gardens, it decreased in many areas where the residents once lived.

THE OFFICER EXPRESSED concerns about young men who hang out all day at Parkway Gardens.
THE OFFICER EXPRESSED concerns about young men who hang out all day at Parkway Gardens.

The same can almost be said about Chicago. After Robert Taylor and Cabrini-Green projects were demolished in 2007 and 2011, respectively, many neighborhoods on the South Side saw an increase in violent crimes, but those statistics fluctuated in subsequent years. On the West Side, violent crimes remained mainly steady, except for the Near West Side, which had similar action to South Side neighborhoods. Overall, the number of crimes this year (16,868) is already higher than last year (14,198), according to the latest statistics from the Chicago police.

In the 1980s, gang violence from the Robert Taylor Homes infected nearby DuSable High School, where 80 percent of the student population was from that housing projects. After several gang-related shootings and the school’s poor academic performance, Chicago Public Schools closed DuSable in 2003. A Chicago landmark, the building now houses the Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, Daniel Hale Williams Prep School of Medicine and the DuSable Leadership Academy, a campus of the Betty Shabazz Charter School.

There are some ironic success stories from the housing projects. Chicago’s new Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Cook County State’s Attorney Candidate Kim Foxx grew up in the Cabrini-Green projects.

While Johnson and Foxx, may be success stories, the cop who spoke to me firmly believes gangs from the defunct housing projects are the reason for the increase in shootings. He is also tired of seeing the stories about cops killing Blacks. Well-read, he wants to see more stories about what’s being done to stop Blacks from killing themselves and wasting their lives on the streets.

When asked if we could talk again, he said, “no that’s enough.”

Back to work.

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