Gun-Toting Gangbanger Video, Continued Violence Trouble Roosevelt Square

By Chloe Riley on December 18, 2013 6:39am 

NEAR WEST SIDE — In the rap video posted online, men point guns, including a high-powered Tec-9, at the camera and each other while throwing gang symbols.

A man in the video wearing a black bandana raps, "All we know is shoot. All we know is kill."

While rap videos about violence and guns aren't out of the ordinary, the video has set off alarm bells on the Near West Side after it was filmed in an apartment in Roosevelt Square, a Chicago Housing Authority development built in 2006.

The complex — which features nearly 400 new apartments, town homes and condominiums — is part of the CHA's "Plan for Transformation" and replaced the violence-ridden ABLA Homes, which had been the oldest public housing project in the city. 

Police said the video features several gang members, including Shoota Mac — whom authorities identified as Nokomis Jefferson, an ABLA New Breed member. Jefferson, 21, has been arrested multiple times and now faces gun charges after he was caught ditching the guns used in the video, police said in court hearings.

The video also features 19-year-old Tytrell Jackson, wearing a black fisherman-style hat and pointing a gun at the camera, who was killed in the 1000 block of West Maxwell Street less than a year after the video was filmed.

The violence in the area has attracted national attention: Jefferson appeared not far from Roosevelt Square, waving a gun in an episode of HBO's "Vice" that aired over the summer.

Jefferson was living with his mother, Bridgette Leachman, in the Roosevelt Square unit in the 1200 block of West Washburne Street at the time the video was shot, officials said. CHA officials have since mentioned the video in an eviction case against them, and the two have agreed to leave Roosevelt Square by January, court records show.

While the video was posted on YouTube last year, many — including police and neighborhood activists — only learned of it recently. Many residents interviewed this month at the complex said the video is evidence of troubling problems at Roosevelt Square — a development that was supposed to represent a new CHA featuring tenants from mixed-income levels and backgrounds.

"I'm living in fear," said Kim Piehl, 51, who lives in a Roosevelt Square condo in the 1200 block of West Arthington Street, a few blocks from where the video was shot.

Last week, Melissa Staples, the police commander for the Near West Side district, said there have been 22 shootings and four people killed this year in the area stretching from Roosevelt Road to 14th Street and from Morgan Street to Ashland Avenue, an area that also includes the Robert Brooks Homes, another public housing project.

"This is my No. 1 priority as far as violence in the district, because of the continual violence in that area," Staples said. "It's where most of our violence occurs in the district."

She said the area where the video was shot was of particular concern. In September, 22-year-old Jamal Coleman was found dead in the 1200 block of West Washburne Avenue, shot multiple times in his legs.

"Washburne is like the hub of where our violence has been occurring," she said. "The 1200 and 1300 block is where the predominant amount of violence has been happening."

The Related Management Company, which runs the property for CHA, has private security that patrols the property. But a source who worked closely with employees at Related doesn't think the problems are under control.

"It was shocking to me the type of disrespect and threats and violence that just goes on on a day-to-day basis," the source said. "So until you get a management company that goes in there and says 'We're not taking it, and we're gonna work with Roosevelt Square to make this a better place for everybody,' " things won't improve.

Still, the source acknowledged Related workers "put their lives on the line. ... It's a very, very difficult place to work."

The source said the only solution is to tear down the nearby Robert Brooks Homes.

But Dennis O'Neill, founder of neighborhood group Connecting4Communities said the video is evidence of major flaws in the CHA's plan to remake public housing.

"Ask yourself if you think the Chicago Housing Authority, with its grandiose and very expensive Plan For Transformation, and all of the other large institutions in our city and in this community can do better than what the video ... depicts," he said in a post on his group's website. "Connecting4Communities believes the CHA can do better."

In an email to DNAinfo.com Chicago, he said the video and continued violence in the community are evidence of "negligence" by the CHA and federal housing officials, who he said "have fallen woefully short of fulfilling their promises made about Roosevelt Square to residents of our community."

"One of the results of this negligence has been damaging violence in our community which puts the success of Roosevelt Square and our broader community at risk," he said.

But CHA officials say they have worked to improve the community.

A spokeswoman for Related, Tricia Van Horn, said "The safety and security of our residents is a priority for the management team at Roosevelt Square, and we work in close partnership with the Chicago Police Department and the CHA on all of our efforts."

Wendy Parks, a spokeswoman for CHA, said there have been four pending or completed eviction cases from Roosevelt Square this year.

In addition, she said the CHA has worked to improve the lives of those living in the 376 public housing units in many other ways.

"Since the inception of Roosevelt Square, the Chicago Housing Authority has been profoundly committed to helping residents on their path to self-sufficiency, achieve long-term economic success and reach their potential," she said in an email.

The residents have access to a social service provider, which has helped 114 residents find jobs since 2010, Parks said.

She said 72 youth "have been engaged with the service provider, and they have unprecedented access to a variety of afternoon options,"  including After School Matters and Chicago Park District activities during the school year and "Learn and Earn" activities for 13-15 year-olds during the summer.

Parks pointed to a January Urban Institute study of the CHA's Plan for Transformation that showed the quality of life for residents who had lived in the old CHA projects citywide had improved "in important ways," including living in better-quality housing in safer neighborhoods.

"Residents clearly feel safer, the portions reporting shootings and violence as big neighborhood problems declined from over half of residents at baseline to about a quarter of residents in 2011," the report states.

Still, "many of these neighborhoods are still troubled," the study said. "About a quarter of respondents indicate that groups just hanging out, people selling and using drugs, and shootings and violence are big problems in their new communities."

Some said the problems at Roosevelt Square can be traced to outsiders.

Roosevelt Square officials said that just one person in the video actually lives in Roosevelt Square.

Tracy Smith, a complex resident who said she used to work as a nurse with Nokomis Jefferson's mother, agreed that it's people from outside the development who cause the most problems there.

"The people that don’t live there is the problem. The come, they visit relatives, and then they cause all kind of corruption,” said Smith, 43.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) — whose ward includes all of the Roosevelt Square development — said he sees the same pattern.

"A lot of the people shot in the area are not from the area. So why are they gravitating there? I don't have the answer," said Fioretti.

Fioretti, though, said things have improved since ABLA was torn down and replaced by Roosevelt Square.

But others say they haven't seen enough improvement over the former ABLA homes, and they say Roosevelt Square still has a long way to go toward truly being a safe and healthy place to live.

"It's not safe at all. The area's always been like this," said a 39-year-old health care worker who lives in Roosevelt Square but didn't want her name used out of fear for her safety.

The woman, who has several young sons, agreed the 1200 block of West Washburne Avenue is particularly bad, to the point where she doesn't allow her oldest son to visit his grandmother who lives on that block, just across the street from her home.

"I worry about them a lot," she said of her children. "I talk to them all the time. I don't allow them to hang out like that," she said pointing to the young men in the Shoota Mac video.

And it's of concern to new residents who bought units in the development under the promise things would get better.

Piehl, who bought her condo in 2006 before construction was completed, said a CHA representative told her the units behind her at Racine and Lytle streets were going to be rental units, but it was not made clear to her that the units would be low-income public housing.

Unable to sell the house for what she paid for it, Piehl and her husband are considering putting the house into foreclosure.

"We cannot sell our house. We've tried to refinance 10 times, and we feel we're trapped," she said.

Piehl said she feels like she's living in a "ghetto" and said action needs to be taken to make residents feel safer.

"We just question who's screening these people. Who are they? I feel like now I'm living in fear," she said.

But officials say they see progress. The police commander is optimistic the message is beginning to get out.

"We’ve seen a change in last few months," Staples said. "People are starting to see that we’re serious about this, and we’re not going to tolerate it. I think they realize CPD is working more closely with CHA to address problem with the gangs in the area."

And despite O'Neill's criticism, he said his group "is working with Mayor Emanuel’s Office, the institutions in our community and new leadership at CHA to chart a different course for Roosevelt Square."

Contributing: Erin Meyer, Darryl Holliday

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