BACK OF THE YARDS — Hearing story after story of gang shootings and bloodshed in the neighborhood, some Chicago police call this place the South Side’s “Wild West.”
After a spike in shootings during the first three months of 2016, local leaders are starting to look at their turf the same way.
Some put out a call for help — and that was before yet another homicide in the neighborhood, when a 22-year-old man was shot to death near 46th and Ashland Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) sent a letter to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, asking his police department to send special units to deal with the gangs, drugs and human trafficking plaguing the neighborhood.
“We are determined to change the culture in Back of the Yards away from one that normalizes violence and gives refuge to gang life,” the letter said. “We believe residents should feel safe on their blocks, at their parks and in their schools.”
The last three months have left the neighborhood feeling anything but safe.
Back of the Yards has seen 27 shootings between January and March this year — a 107 percent jump over the 13 shootings that happened over the same period in 2015.
The number of people wounded — fatally or nonfatally — in shootings in Back of the Yards jumped from 18 in 2015 to 33 this year (not counting Wednesday's shooting death).
“We’re seeing a continuous increase in violence in Back of the Yards,” Lopez said in an interview.
“In coordination with the Chicago Police Department as part of a long-term strategy to reduce the violence in the Back of the Yards community,” the letter said, help from the Cook County Sheriff's Office would put more boots on the ground.
The letter said the neighborhood was ranked second in the city for murders, third for aggravated battery and fifth for prostitution.
The inspiration to send out the S.O.S. struck Lopez on March 25, when a group of gangbangers stole a rival gang member’s SUV in broad daylight, drove it onto the basketball courts at Davis Square Park and set it on fire.
In an interview, Lopez called those gang members “urban terrorists.”
Before he wrote the letter to Dart, the rookie alderman shared his discontent with the violence shaking up the neighborhood in a Facebook post:
“This is not how we are meant to live: in fear of gangs and wannabes trying to show their ‘street cred’ by terrorizing their own communities, damaging their own parks, and striking fear in the hearts of those they grew up with.”
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who leads the neighborhood’s industrial areas, said he hoped the Sheriff’s Office would decide to help curb crime in Back of the Yards.
“I’d be glad if the sheriff joins the fight,” Cardenas said. “It’s a tough challenge. The gangs are the issue here. It isn’t like neighbors are going out on a shooting rampage.”
Dan Marquez, the CEO of Aztec Supplies, grew up in Back of the Yards. He signed his name at the bottom of the Lopez letter.
He remembers a time when Back of the Yards was a place to raise a family. That’s all changed, he said.
“The home is no longer sacred,” Marquez said in an interview. “Let alone a preschool or nursery" school.
Marquez was referring to a daytime shooting that happened on March 23, when three men and a teen in car were shot outside a day care center where preschoolers were fast asleep during nap time.
Less than 12 hours earlier, two men were shot to death and another was wounded in separate shootings.
The crimes happened about 1,000 feet apart.
“There are no qualms,” he said. “They don’t care.”
Marquez, who is active at Lopez’s office, has heard stories of fearful neighborhood folks sending their children out of town on weekends and sleeping under their beds, worried about stray bullets.
“For each of us, this is a very personal matter,” Lopez’s letter said of a community of thousands of immigrants pursuing the “American Dream.”
That dream is in danger now, he said:
"That dream has turned into a nightmare as the culture of gangs and violence have replaced the longstanding neighborhood culture of hard work, determination and togetherness.”
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