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Uptown Crime Has Residents On Edge

 Officials said six people were transported to area hospitals following a shooting in the 4800 block of North Sheridan Road.
Six Shot in Uptown
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UPTOWN — The six people shot Friday night at Lawrence Avenue and Sheridan Road — even as residents gathered at the intersection in a public display intended to stop crime — were among 10 people shot in the neighborhood in June amid a recent string of gang shootings that has locals on edge.

The gang-related drive-by shooting happened in the same strip mall where another gang shootout wounded two people two weeks earlier.

And it happened despite a "positive loitering," event residents were staging at the intersection in a public show of vigilance against gang activity. It also happened regardless of a security guard recently stationed at the strip mall, which is just east of the Lawrence Red Line station and the center of Uptown's entertainment district.

 At least four people have been shot in Uptown in June, leaving members of the community on edge in a changing neighborhood still afflicted by pockets of gang violence.
Uptown Crime
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The head of the neighborhood's economic development organization said the persistent violent crime will hinder efforts to promote the budding entertainment district.

“The violence is deeply, deeply frustrating and a solution to it has to be part of any economic development strategy," Alyssa Berman-Cutler, the CEO of Uptown United, said in an email Sunday. "People need to feel safe in a community that they live in and visit.”

Police said a gunman in a four-door sedan fired shots at a group of people gathered outside the JJ Peppers Food Store about 7:15 p.m. Friday and struck six of them, including an innocent bystander waiting at the westbound 81 Lawrence bus stop outside the store.

Berman-Cutler was concerned that Friday's shooting happened just a few blocks south of the site of Uptown's "incredibly successful night market" that debuted Thursday night on West Argyle Street, "where hundreds of people, including folks from across the Uptown community, enjoyed a great slice of the neighborhood."

The Truman Square Neighbors block club, whose boundaries include the intersection, posted a Facebook message after the shooting expressing "hope for the day when that area is safe."

"Be careful. It's sad and amazing how a handful of miscreants can mess up a whole community," the block club said.

The strip mall — where 13 bullets tore into a Cricket Wireless store and forced a staff full of single mothers to hit the floor on June 10 — sits in Gangster Disciples gang territory. It has a reputation in the neighborhood as a hotspot for gang and drug activity and vagrancy. A massive gang riot just south of the mall garnered attention from local and national media three years ago.

Neighbors were horrified and community leaders were appalled by Friday's brazen shooting. The shooting injured known gang members and alleged drug dealers who Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said had been loitering outside the store despite a security guard ordering them to beat it not long before the shooting.

Cappleman, whose ward includes most of Uptown, said in a letter to constituents over the weekend that he was calling for a meeting with area police commanders to review the incident and determine "what the next steps should be.” The alderman said he would seek "a process in place where drug dealers feel intimidated to hang around this area."

Cappleman said his office contacted the CTA “many months ago,” and requested the agency move the bus stop near the scene of the shooting east “to help make clear who is waiting for the bus and who is loitering in front of the plaza.”

He said the request remains under review. Cappleman also said he would be meeting with area block clubs to gauge their thoughts about “voting this precinct dry to not allow sales of packaged alcohol.”

He insisted that crime was decreasing in most of his ward, but that certain concentrated pockets of crime were persistent in some areas. The 46th Ward, which includes most of Uptown and a small chunk of Lakeview, suffered 256 violent crimes from May 2012-May 2013, ranking it 37 out of 50 city wards, and making it safer than what many neighbors might expect, according to Cappleman's office.

The alderman's "ward master plan" lists a three-pronged approach to public safety in the area, focusing on "problem buildings, crime hot spots and frequent offenders."

Neighbors reacting to the bloody June in Uptown suggested a range of anti-crime measures, including a beefed up police presence during the summer complete with foot patrols on Lawrence, and Cappleman installing a "satellite" ward office in the area similar to what Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) recently opened on Argyle Street this summer.

Uptown resident Amanda Louise, 29, said she witnessed shootings at Lawrence and Sheridan last summer and worries when driving west up Lawrence from the lakefront: "I don't want to get stuck at that light."

She also worries about potential for divisive rhetoric in the diverse neighborhood centered on the shootings. In Uptown, as in the rest of Chicago, the incidents typically involve both shooters and victims from minority, low-income backgrounds.

"It seems like the knee-jerk reaction is: 'We need to move these people out of the neighborhood.' ... But you're moving the problem around, not solving the problem," Louise said.

She suggested that improving area schools, devoting more time, money and dialogue to the low-income population — along with law-enforcement and criminal justice strategies — might eventually help solve what some residents have diagnosed as Uptown's "generational" gang plight.