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Peace Efforts 'Hijacked' By Drug Dealers Before South Shore Slayings

By Sam Cholke | March 31, 2017 3:27pm | Updated on April 3, 2017 8:32am
 Gardeners at the South Shore Hospitality Garden said their communal table had been hijacked by drug dealers ahead of Thursday's shooting of four men at a nearby restaurant.
Gardeners at the South Shore Hospitality Garden said their communal table had been hijacked by drug dealers ahead of Thursday's shooting of four men at a nearby restaurant.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

SOUTH SHORE — Gardeners in South Shore are considering giving up on a long term project to build peace in the neighborhood after four people were shot next to the garden Thursday.

Mary Steenson of the South Shore Hospitality Garden at 75th Street and Coles Avenue said she now wants to get rid of a large communal table co-opted by drug dealers that the community used for potlucks with neighbors and police.

Steenson said tensions had been building in the neighborhood for a while before Thursday’s shooting that killed four men at Nadia Fish and Chicken Grill, 2704 E. 75th St.

“It’s not like a lot of us could not see this coming,” Steenson said.

The shooting at the restaurant that killed Edwin Davis, Emmanuel Stokes, Dillon Jackson and Raheem Jackson was part of a deadly day in South Shore that saw seven killed in the neighborhood that until Thursday hadn’t seen any fatal shootings in March.

RELATED: South Shore Shootings Kill 7 People Thursday, Police Say

Police said there is still no one in custody for any of Thursday’s shootings.

Steenson said the garden had initially brought peace to the corner when it was started in 2010, but in the last two years it has increasingly become a space for an open-air drug market, a rarity on the South Side.

She said she has frequently witnessed a man come out to people waiting at the garden table and announce what drugs will be for sale shortly before a sedan pulls up with the drugs.

“There’s literally wholesale drug sales off that table,” Steenson said. “That’s when the shootings started.”

She said last spring, there was a shooting a half a block away while the gardeners were having a potluck with police.

“That young policeman was standing there with us and heard the gunshots and took off running towards them,” Steenson said. “It was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen.”

She said she thinks the Grand Crossing District police are stretched too thin and the best option now is to get rid of the table.

“It’s just been hijacked,” Steenson said.

Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) agreed that it might be time to get rid of the table because the area has become a hotspot for drugs, particularly a little farther west at 75th Street and Exchange Avenue.

“It’s perpetually a hangout,” Mitchell said.

He said he’s talking to police now about what exactly sparked the wave of shootings on Thursday.

“Right now they’re trying to tie everything together,” Mitchell said.

Police presence was noticeably higher in South Shore on Friday with numerous tactical and uniformed officers patrolling the neighborhood and visibly out questioning people around the scenes of the shootings.

Mitchell said he’s moving up a community safety summit he was planning for late April to address neighbors’ concerns.

But some are already planning to leave over the recent spike in violence.

Destiny Edmond said she’s moving out of the neighborhood to Hyde Park or the South Loop when her lease ends at the end of the month because of the violence.

She said at 4 a.m. Thursday, a man tried to force his way into her roommate’s car as he was pulling into their garage near 78th Street and Yates Avenue claiming people were trying to shoot him.

Edmond said she was woken up shortly after that by the alarm going off in the garage and found the man, who she said was 19-20 years old, hiding in the car in the garage.

“When I told him to get out of the car, he just stared at me,” Edmond said. “I put him in a chokehold because he wouldn’t leave.”

She said the man again said he was hiding from people trying to shoot him and when she kicked him out he threatened to come back and shoot her.

“Thankfully, the lease is up next month,” Edmond said.

She said she knew there was violence in South Shore, but didn’t know it was as bad as it is. She said she’s now worried about this man retaliating against her and is moving as soon as she is able.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the shootings in South Shore represented a “level of evil and depravity.”

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said police were still unsure if any of the three shooting incidents Thursday but said the victims in the restaurant and a drive-by shooting on the 7000 South South Shore Drive had gang relations.  

“We know they were targeted, they were not random murders,” Johnson said at a Friday afternoon press conference in South Shore.

He said the shooting of Patrice Calvin, a 26-year-old pregnant woman found dead in her South Shore apartment, was unrelated to the other shootings.

Police are ramping up their presence in the area over the coming weeks and an outdoor roll call with officers was planned for 7 p.m. Friday at 75th Street and Coles Avenue.