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Mount Greenwood Race Relations In Spotlight Again After Fatal Shooting

By Howard Ludwig | November 11, 2016 8:38am
 A group showing support for police officers held signs Tuesday night and chanted,
A group showing support for police officers held signs Tuesday night and chanted, "CPD, CPD, CPD" in Mount Greenwood.
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Maplewood Photography

MOUNT GREENWOOD — In the days since the fatal shooting of a 25-year-old black man by off-duty police during a traffic dispute in Mount Greenwood Saturday, tensions have been brimming in the Far Southwest Side neighborhood.

Rallies on Sunday and Tuesday after Joshua Beal's death drew crowds of protesters and brought out hundreds of Blue Lives Matter supporters and nearby residents to counterprotest at 111th Street and Kedzie Avenue.

Black activists with megaphones who demanded "Justice for Joshua Beal!" were met with chants of "CPD, CPD, CPD" — and in some cases much worse — from those in a community that's the home of so many police officers, firefighters and other city workers.

As the tensions have mounted, the focus has shifted from the police shooting to the long-held notion that Mount Greenwood is a bastion of racism. The neighborhood is 88 percent white, according to the 2012 Census.

"If we agree that black lives matter and blue lives matter, what are we fighting for?" said activist Jedidiah Brown Tuesday night. He led a protest with the Rev. Michael Pfleger and fellow organizer Ja'Mal Green.

Indeed, the neighborhood's history has been checkered with incidents of racism.

There's no official tally of incidents like in 1996 when a swastika made of wood chips appeared on the playground of the Keller Regional Gifted Center in Mount Greenwood, or occasional attempts by white supremacist groups to recruit in the neighborhood by distributing fliers.

But published reports of racist incidents in Mount Greenwood include:

• In July 2008, when seven black students were taunted when they returned to their alma mater, Mount Greenwood Elementary School. The group was the first to integrate the school in 1968, and they came back to commemorate the event. They were met by jeering neighbors who told them to "go back to your own neighborhood," according to published reports.

• In June 2009, Latricia Deanes found a swastika and words, "Go home n-----s," spray-painted on her garage door, according to an NBC5 report. The landlord promptly repainted the door, but the single black mother of three children said she felt "scared and angry."

• In October 2012, Cornelius Anyere and a friend went to the Knights of Columbus hall in Mount Greenwood to watch football. The two black men said they were told "your type is not welcome" and left the club upset, according to a CBS2 report. Further reports in the Daily Southtown said the Knights later apologized to Anyere, who had been a member of the Catholic fraternity since 2003.

Kate Reidy said she took over as principal at Mount Greenwood Elementary just days after the incident with the black alumni. She denied accounts of anything being said to the group. She said the group was upset by a swastika drawn in chalk near the entrance to the school.

"We did look into it," Reidy said. "We then sent out invitations to the former students to come back for a tour and to see the new buildings."

Reidy was among those who said the actions of the past as well as some of the folks shouting racially charged insults at protesters this week aren't indicative of the feelings of everyone in the neighborhood.

"Every orchard has a bad apple. It is going to happen," Reidy said Wednesday. "It is not the philosophy of Mount Greenwood School."

But William Sampson, who teaches public policy at DePaul University, said he believes the problems in the neighborhood are deep-seated and will continue as long as the community is not meaningfully integrated.

"Mount Greenwood has been one of the more openly racist confines in Chicago for a long time," Sampson said. "The problem with insularity is that you don't encounter difference. And when you don't encounter difference, you tend to be wary of it."

Vitriol in Mount Greenwood also likely is fueled by the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, who captured as much as 69 percent of the vote in one of the neighborhood's precincts, Sampson said.

"Donald Trump says it's OK to be racist — and be openly racist. And the people there are happy about it," Sampson said.

In almost every other area of the city, Hillary Clinton was the chosen presidential candidate.

Cedric Norwood, a retired State Police sergeant, has lived in nearby Morgan Park since 1999. A black man, Norwood believes many Mount Greenwood residents are simply concerned about safety in their neighborhood.

Norwood said he he hasn't personally experienced racial bias in the neighboring community but admits that having a badge gives him a certain "swag" in Mount Greenwood. And he thinks that's recognizable to fellow police officers.

Many Mount Greenwood residents view the protesters as a potential threat to the safety that they presently enjoy, Norwood said.

As one police supporter expressed on a poster at Sunday's protest: "You Ruined Your Own Communities, Don't Ruin Ours."

Sampson pointed to areas such as Marquette Park and Auburn Gresham as once majority white areas that are now a majority black.

He blamed white flight and poverty for declines of those neighborhoods, saying home values plunged as whites feared living side-by-side with blacks. Those who weren't able to sell quickly rented their homes to lower-income residents who couldn't afford to buy.

"The reality is that when a neighborhood is all poor, bad things are going to happen," Sampson said.

He contrasted that to Beverly, Hyde Park and other more integrated communities. There, white homeowners chose to stay when blacks moved in saying, "as long as we don't rush out of here, nothing bad is going to happen."

The Rev. Marty O'Donovan is pastor of Saints Faith, Hope & Charity Catholic Parish in suburban Winnetka. But before being assigned to the North Shore parish he was the pastor of St. Christina Parish in Mount Greenwood.

"I think Mount Greenwood is a terrific community, both during my time growing up there and as a pastor," O'Donovan said Monday.

He said race is an issue in communities throughout America. And in his time in Mount Greenwood, he had many, often difficult, conversations about race. More often than not, these conversations were productive — though certainly not all.

"I think the majority of people are reasonable," he said.

Still, William Anderson said Tuesday night that his eyes were opened to the racist leanings of many in Mount Greenwood. Anderson, a black man, stood beside Pfleger and other activists that night.

He was alarmed by the aggression from Blue Lives Matter supporters, saying he felt that both sides would find common ground in calling for a thorough investigation into Beal's death.

"Why would that pose such a threat?" Anderson said.

His son attends Keller in Mount Greenwood. So he's familiar with the neighborhood and even pointed to a 111th Street store where he recently bought school shoes.

"It's OK to come to school, but leave after school," he said of the message he received Tuesday night.

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