SOUTH CHICAGO — George King, 43, is a convicted felon trying to find a job despite his criminal record for such things as drugs and theft.
"I have looked and looked for employment, but because I am a convicted felon no one will hire me. And I am not about to work for peanuts. I need to make enough to pay my bills," said King. "So, like everybody else around here, I got to do what I got to do in order to take care of myself."
It is residents such as King, who has lived in the South Chicago neighborhood since 1998, that Rev. Anthony Williams said he plans on helping if elected as the next congressman for the 2nd District.
"I plan on introducing legislation that would allow 'lower-level' felonies to be expunged," Williams said at a Thursday news conference at the corner of 79th Street and Essex Avenue. "This neighborhood is called [by residents] 'Murder Row' because of the killings that are happening around here. If people had jobs to go to, then they wouldn't be out here doing crime, but they cannot get a job because they have a felony conviction."
Williams, who has been an unsuccessful candidate for the 2nd District seat six times previously, added that while West Side U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7th) has sponsored legislation to address expungements, it does not go far enough.
"You cannot have [felony convictions] expunged, only felony arrests and misdemeanor convictions," he said.
A lack of police action has contributed to homicides in South Chicago, according to James Reno, 61, a resident for 25 years, who is also unemployed.
"The police will 'lay low' until all the shooting stops and then they arrive on the scene. They wouldn't need to try and solve homicides if they prevented the shootings," Reno said as a police officer pulled up in a squad car inquiring about the crowd of 10 people who attended the news conference at the corner.
"You see what I mean. They [police] think we are a gang meeting on the corner, so they drive up on us to check it out. But now that they know we are not a gang, they are going about their business."
What is also needed to suppress violence is more youth programs and better male role models for teenagers, said Jeffery Faine, 44, unemployed and a resident since 1973.
"It's not us grown folks doing all the shootings around here, it's these young cats," Faine said. "They're out here trying to make a name for themselves. But who do they [youth] have to look up to? Look around, everyone is standing on the corner instead of being at work or somewhere productive. But when it is nice outside, this is what we do."
Still, Williams, who is the pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in south suburban Robbins, which is not part of the 2nd District, said that until someone really deals with the crime issue, not much will get done in "this neck of the woods."
Tremont Hunter, 45, works as a building janitor and said he would like to one day own a car wash.
"All I need is some help and I could become an entrepreneur. I clean cars during the summer as a side hustle and with the right help I could own my own business," Hunter said. "No one is talking about how to help us own our own business. Every black person does not want to work for someone forever. I know I don't."