UPTOWN — The first murder in Uptown this year has sparked fears of revenge shootings while intensifying concerns about a troubled strip mall near the crime scene.
Authorities said 23-year-old Corteze Reed was standing in the 900 block of West Windsor Avenue Saturday night when a gunman opened fire on him in a gang-related shooting. Reed, a known Vice Lord gang member, died two hours later.
Uptown residents reported hearing gunshots the next night close to Saturday's crime scene. Nobody was hit.
But Amy Levin, a community member who facilitates community policing meetings, worried that Reed's murder might have already enflamed tensions between Vice Lords and Black P Stone gangs, especially with the summer's typical uptick in crime on the horizon.
"That's always a big concern," she said.
By this time last year, only two people had been shot. Both survived. But by the end of 2013 at least 21 people had been shot, mostly during the summer, including a 21-year-old man slain in August. Counting the young man killed Saturday, five people have been shot this year in Uptown.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said he's focused on preventing possible violent retaliation and that he has warned other gang members not to escalate the violence.
Cappleman said he regularly speaks with gang members on the street, asking them about their concerns, offering them resources for job training and education — and letting them know "we want you out" of the neighborhood if they don't shape up.
Another crime concern mentioned by police and residents was Windsor Center, a strip mall on a troubled stretch of Sheridan Road between Sunnyside and Windsor avenues. It's home to seven businesses, including Johnie's Express Grill, Mexican restaurant La Ciudad, a dollar store and a laundromat.
Gary McCord, a property manager with Rayan Enterprises, owner of the northern half of the mall, said "the gang members have been a little more visible" there as the weather warms. He said his company works closely with police, calling authorities when it suspects illegal activity.
Police and residents complain that gang members loiter in the strip mall, using the area around it to sell and stash drugs. A big fear, McCord said, was also that their presence could repel customers and irk potential new businesses, not to mention raise worries about violence breaking out.
Sitting behind a lottery machine Wednesday, dollar store employee Francis Ismeh compared Uptown to a can of pop, calm until shaken. Things can "get fizzy" and quickly escalate, but it all settles eventually, he said, saying Uptown is normally safe outside of these clustered outbursts.
A cook at Johnie's laughed at the notion that Uptown was safer than some people think.
"Uptown's not that dangerous?" he asked, pointing north toward Windsor Avenue. "Somebody just got killed — right there."
But one of his co-workers argued: "It will get better if everybody works together."
Multiple shootings last summer at Weiss Plaza, including one that injured six people, spurred the creation of community task force made up of Cappleman, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), local police commanders and businesses in the mall at Sheridan and West Lawrence Avenue.
Cameras were installed, security was advised how to better deter loitering and businesses were given "no loitering" signs and encouraged to report safety issues to police. The state's attorney's office also partnered with residents to seek prosecutions to address persistent crime.
Cappleman said the measures decreased crime on the corner, and that he'll take the same approach at Windsor Center.
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