Cutting out crime in Chicago

Some residents go beyond Hollywood and protests to protect one another

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By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader

The streets are finally quiet. Calvin Palmer Jr.’s barbershop on the South Side is humming with customers. Gang bangers have fled the area and the gunfire has stopped. The barbershop’s strategy to give free haircuts during a 48-hour ceasefire between rival gangs worked.

That’s Hollywood’s version of Chicago in the new movie “Barbershop 3: The Next Cut.” On the South Side in real life, the story is far different. The shootings continue and there are no signs of hope in sight.   But Tamar Manasseh and a group of mothers are not discouraged. On many occasions they have patrolled dangerous neighborhoods to keep children safe. This week they are out in full force, determined to protect kids as they play on the city’s gritty streets during Chicago Public School’s Spring Break.

It’s a stark contrast to “Barbershop 3: The Next,” a new movie that reached No. 2 last weekend at the box office behind “Disney’s Jungle Book.”

In theaters across the country, Chicago’s violent neighborhoods are in the spotlight with shootings, rival gang wars and senseless deaths of young Black males. After Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” it’s the second movie in 6 months to dramatized Chicago’s notorious gun violence.

TAMAR MANASSEH, FOUNDER of Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), serves residents in Englewood during a free barbeque on Monday, April 18. (Photo by Erick Johnson)
TAMAR MANASSEH, FOUNDER of Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), serves residents in Englewood during a free barbeque on Monday, April 18. (Photo by Erick Johnson)

In Chatham last weekend, numerous screenings were sold out as fans packed the theater on 87th street. Moviegoers were given free haircuts in a makeshift barbershop in the facility’s lobby. It was all part of the hype and buildup of “Barbershop 3: The Next Cut,” the third installment of a series, which dramatizes the family atmosphere of Chicago’s real-life Black barbershops. They are small business that for decades have become in their own way pillars in the community. Here, Blacks develop a bond as they talk about a range of topics and current events.

Amid the fancy hair weaves and razor thin cuts, in the movie, employees at the barbershop devise a successful ceasefire strategy that wins praise from Chicago leaders and the president of the United States. The ceasefire also helps a prominent barber change his mind about relocating his business to the North Side for a safer environment for his family. The movie has a happy ending, but that’s where fiction ends and reality begins.

In the last three years, shootings in Chicago have increased. Already this year 914 people have been shot and 152 have died. Community leaders have spearheaded peace walks, town hall meeting and protests.

Despite the efforts, the shootings continue. In a case of art clashing with life, five people were shot on early Tuesday morning April 19 as they were making a rap video at Foster Park in Gresham. One of victims died. A total of 13 people were wounded by gunfire that day.

“The neighborhoods have gotten worse,” said Daryl Crosby, 31, a resident in Englewood. “Its not just the gangs, it’s everything.”

Despite the proliferation of gunfire, Crosby and a handful of residents are fighting back. Since Monday, April 18, they have staked out spots in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. While they gave out free barbequed hot dogs and hamburgers, mothers wearing pink T-shirts kept a close watch on kids as they played, while Chicago Public Schools were closed for school break.

The group was Mothers Against Senseless Killings (M.A.S.K), an organization in Englewood founded by Tamar Manasseh, a fearless mother of two. During peace-seeking events, she is known to give hugs to gang members and people who have been written off by society.

Unlike many mothers against gun violence, Manasseh has not lost any children to crime. She has a 17-year old son and a 20-year old daughter. To Manasseh, the children in the community are hers too.

On Monday, Manasseh stood on the corner of 75th and Stewart in Auburn Gresham and held a barbeque. Crosby fired up the grill at 4 p.m. The aroma of the seasoned hamburgers on a grill drew people to the site. By 5 p.m. the area was filled with mothers and children. Under balmy skies, music blared from passing cars while children rode on bicycles and played on the street.

On this same corner a year ago, three women were shot after a gunman ran by on foot and opened fire. One of the women, 34-year old Lucille Barnes, later died.

When rumors swelled that the incident was a retaliatory shooting, Manasseh and her organization sprang into action and patrolled the streets.

The group has been known to patrol Harvard Avenue in Englewood wearing their bright pink T-shirts. With violence still high in neighborhoods, MASK organizes parents, especially mothers, to take more active roles in their children’s lives. It is a choice parents have to make, members say.

“The lady who was killed had kids. When you kill mothers, who’s going to be there for the kids as they go through life,” Manasseh said.

Manasseh’s organization also holds weekly meetings to discuss the group’s goals and upcoming events. Beyond the time commitment, running the program is costly. Residents drop off cash donations and supplies, though Manasseh provides funding herself. The presence of the mothers, their tent and the grill are all a way to express a welcoming sense of community.

This is the second year M.A.S.K held three-hour barbeques in neighborhoods. Last year M.A.S.K visited two neighborhoods. It was expanded this year to five street corners on the South and West Side.

Manasseh believes the event could help reduce violence in the community by building a sense of family at a time when many households are torn apart by hardships and stress. She and her organization purchased the food and materials for the event.

”We’re part of the community. We know the neighborhood,” Manasseh said.

One of M.A.S.K.’s volunteers, Crosby is a ex-felon who turned his life around. He works on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company, but this week he is the master chef cooking up burgers and hot dogs.

“This is a protest of Black on Black violence in Chicago,” Crosby said. “This isn’t about having a turnout or party. It’s a lot of stuff happening all at once and we’re doing something about it.”

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