UPTOWN — Wednesday night, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) led concerned citizens on a community walk through a pocket of Uptown that has recently been plagued by violence stemming from an internal gang conflict.
The walk, which began around 6:30 p.m. with a conversation at Osterman's satelite office at 1022 W. Argyle St., took over 60 concerned neighbors on a two-block tour of the area from the well-publicized Argyle streetscape project to the location of a double homicide the week before.
"In our neighborhood in the last four to five years, we used to have pockets that were bloodshed and aflame," Osterman said Wednesday. "The reality is throughout our community now we have peace and quiet in areas that used to have bullets. This summer has shown, even with the progress we’re making on Argyle with the streetscape and new businesses coming in, the gangs do not want to give up this turf. They don’t want to do it for drug sells, they don’t want to do it because this is what they’ve always known.
"It’s a fight, and it’s not an easy fight."
During the summer, gang activity and violence has been concentrated on a few blocks between Sheridan Road and Broadway and between Foster Avenue and West Lawrence Avenue, Osterman said. Around 2:15 a.m. Sept. 2, a 34-year-old man and 32-year-old man were fatally shot in the 5000 block of North Winthrop Avenue, police said.
The double homicide was the latest in a string of shootings in the area stemming from an internal gang conflict with the Black P Stones, "a gang that’s been in the area for quite some time" that had already forced police to dedicate a 24-hour patrol car in the area, Osterman said. After the most recent shooting, another patrol car will be dedicated 24-hours-a-day to Argyle Street and Winthrop Avenue.
"We need active police. In addition to that, the tactical teams are increasing their presence as well as gang enforcement as well.
"[But] none of that has been sufficient enough to me, because a double homicide happened," Osterman continued. "I’m always very concerned about the chance for more bullets flying. It doesn’t stop sometimes when someone is killed and someone goes to jail. There’s retribution, and we’re very concerned about that."
Last week, Michael Laster, 28, of the 6100 block of North Seeley Avenue, and Jonathon Thompson, 33, of the 5400 block of North Kenmore Avenue, were identified charged with first-degree murder in the two murders, police said.
The two parolees, Laster and Thompson, had been longtime friends with the victims until an incident in early August, prosecutors said. Early Wednesday, Thompson began to argue with the victims before shooting them in a parking lot and firing at a witness, prosecutors said. Thompson and Laster were arrested 45 minutes after the shooting wearing pants that appeared to have blood on them.
Michael Wells has lived in the area for about a year, but wasn't paying much attention until the fatal shootings, he said.
"When two people get shot a half a block from my house, I think people like me start to pay attention. So now my concerns are random gunfire, is it going to ricochet of something and kill my dog… or kill me or my neighbors?" said Wells, traveling with his dog in the group following Osterman through the neighborhood.
“I’m not going to say I didn’t have any fear and I’m not sure I have fear now, but sometimes it just takes a moment like we had like last week to shake people to the core and make them sit up and realize ‘hey, if we don’t get together as a community and do something about this it’s just going to get worse,'" Wells said.
Wells' sentiment aligns with Osterman's rationale behind forming a neighborhood group for residents west of Sheridan Road. The group would also be open to residents outside those boundaries, but will be called Argyle Neighbors.
The hope is that the group would unite some of the business owners along Argyle Street with the concerned neighbors, Osterman said.
"[Business owners] have a vested interest as well: they can not just close their doors at 6 o’clock and go home," Osterman said. "The same issues that you care about that brought you here today affects them every single day, so part of want we want to do is to have a coalition of business owners, residents and social service agencies to really kind of work on this."
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