ENGLEWOOD — The 44 crosses put up by an artist in an Englewood lot were meant to honor of the lives of those lost to violence in Chicago since this year began, but they have so upset members of the community that one group plans to remove them and the local alderman has come out against them, too.
Greg Zanis, a West Side native who now lives in Aurora, has said that he erected the crosses in the 5500 block of South Bishop Street after a lot owner gave him the land so he could put up a tribute to Chicago's victims.
But Tamar Manasseh, the founder of Mothers Against Senseless Killings, said she is planning to remove the crosses from Zanis' land as early as Tuesday.
Manasseh, who lives in Bronzeville, grew up on the block where the crosses were put up. She used to play baseball in the lot that has now turned into a memorial.
“There’s a place for the living and a place for the dead,” Manasseh said Monday.
Her group had plans to plant trees on the block, but she said they won’t do it as long as the crosses are there.
“It’s a cemetery now,” she said.
Her group, nicknamed the “Army of Moms,” formed in June 2015 after the slaying of 34-year-old Lucille Barnes in the 7500 block of South Stewart. Manasseh said she hoped to stop any retaliatory violence by setting up patrols and hosting cookouts in the area. Her efforts have gotten national attention.
She said Zanis' project is making it hard to complete her mission.
“My mission is to restore the humanity back to the people in the community, so if we’re walking around and we’re among the tombstones all day, how do I convince them there’s still life there?” she asked.
She added: “It’s basically just the headstone for the whole community. It says there’s no life here and there’s no more fight left in us.”
She spoke with Zanis on Monday, but the two could not come to an agreement, she said. She said she plans to remove the crossesTuesday. Zanis couldn't be reached for comment.
Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th) said the consensus from those she has spoken with matches her feelings — the crosses give a bad image to the community, and Zanis should have sought more community input before embarking on the effort.
“It looks like everyone was killed at that spot,” Foulkes said Monday. “He should’ve reached out. This is a community where people feel that people just come in and do whatever they want to do.”
Foulkes said Zanis told her “No one has ever been upset about him putting [up crosses before], but I said this is Englewood, it’s a different beast out here.”
Zanis, a retired carpenter who was born in Austin, has been creating similar memorials for more than 20 years. He’s put crosses in Boston after the Boston Marathon bombing and in Orlando after the nightclub shooting.
When he acquired the empty lot from a woman he chooses not to identify, he decided to create a place for victims of the city's violence to be remembered, he said in an interview last week. The photos on the crosses represent people from all over, not just Englewood, he said.
He said that he hasn't received criticism from the community or others who live on the block. He has put up more than 1,000 crosses in Chicago before this lot, he said.
"I didn't pick Englewood," Zanis said. "Someone gave me this lot. If people hated me in Chicago I wouldn't be here."
He said that if anyone wants to buy the lot from him for $4,500, he'd be open to the offer.
"I would be delighted to sell it, but I need another location," Zanis said.
Zanis said he got the word out about what he was planning on doing last November when he did an interview with the Sun-Times.