The Devil Out Here

“The devil is out here, and he’s busy.”

Polly Sykes, the mother of 15-year-old Demetrius Griffin Jr., whose body was found burned in a trash can on the West Side of Chicago in September 2016, spoke to her friends and family at a vigil held in his honor: “The devil is out here, and he’s busy.”

2016 was a record year for gun violence in Chicago with 4367 shooting victims and 784 homicides. In 2015, there were 2988 shooting victims and 492 homicides.

Austin, the neighborhood where this homicide occurred, is one of the most violent in the city, with 88 homicides in 2016. The Garfield Park and Englewood neighborhoods on the West and South Sides of the city also have a high number of shootings and homicides.

Where shootings occur

Chasity, who did not want to give her last name, looks out of the shattered window of her home near the scene of a shooting in the 500 block of North Springfield Avenue Saturday, June 4, 2016, in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. She said a bullet came through the glass but only shattered the outer pane of the two-pane window. A 20-year-old man went to the hospital with gunshot wounds to the leg.

Around 2:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 4, in East Garfield Park, a 20-year-old man was shot while in a car and went to the hospital with two gunshot wounds to his leg. A stray bullet shattered the outer pane of the two-pane window of a nearby house. A Chicago police officer with a large rifle stood guard by the vehicle with shot-out windows in the intersection next to the house. Nearby, metallic star-shaped balloons, empty liquor bottles and a makeshift cross reflected blue police lights.

Many residents, including Chasity, pictured above, whose young son was sleeping upstairs at the time of the shooting, talk of leaving the city. For low-income families, though, this is not always an option. 202 people have been shot and 29 killed this year in her neighborhood.

Paramedics prepare to transport a gunshot victim at the scene of a shooting in the 4500 block of West Jackson Boulevard Saturday, August 6, 2016, in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. A 19-year-old man was shot in the thigh and taken to Mount Sinai Hospital.
A member of the Chicago Police Department works in his car at the scene of a fatal shooting in the 700 block of North Ridgeway Avenue Sunday, June 26, 2016, in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. There were more than 100 people on the block celebrating a birthday party when 55-year-old Wondale Collier was shot multiple times and later died at Mount Sinai Hospital. At least 50 people stayed at the crime scene as police looked for shell casings among the empty bottles and plastic cups.
Heavy snow falls as members of the Chicago Police Department work the scene of a shooting in the 7200 block of South Sangamon Street Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Officers were driving down the block Wednesday night, checking out a report about shots fired, when a man ran up and told them, “They just got my gramma.” 72-year-old Emagene Jackson was shot in the chest and wrist and was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center where she recovered.
Two men arrive and hug each other at the scene of a fatal shooting at a Citgo gas station in the 6600 block of South State Street Thursday, July 14, 2016, in the Park Manor neighborhood of Chicago. According to the gas station owners, one of their employees, Marwan Sadeq, was shot and killed out front.“He’s a really kind guy. It’s a big loss to his family,” said Saleh Awadh, 42, Ahmed’s brother. No one at the scene wanted to break the news to the man’s wife, he said. “Nobody has the guts,” Saleh Awadh said. “She loves him so much. That’s what I know. They had a good relationship.”
A member of the Chicago Police Department collects evidence from the body of a gunshot victim in the  2100 block of West Devon Avenue Saturday, August 6, 2016, in the West Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago. 18-year-old Miguel Bahena was shot in the chest and pronounced dead at the scene. A young man, a friend of Bahena’s who did not want to be identified, stayed at the scene for hours, with Bahena’s blood on his jeans and smeared on his ankle.

When shootings occur

Graffiti marks a fence in the parking lot of a gas station in the 5200 block of South Western Avenue Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. Members of the Chicago Police Department were looking for a weapon nearby involved in the fatal of shooting a 44-year-old male in the 4500 block of South Hermitage Avenue.
An evidence marker sits next to a rifle casing at the scene of a fatal shooting in the 4500 block of South Hermitage Avenue Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. 44-year-old Albertano Medrano was shot and killed.

Shootings increase over holiday weekends when people are off work, children are out of school and people are outdoors in the warm weather. 46 people were shot and 13 people were killed over Labor Day weekend this year. 

44-year-old Albertano Medrano was shot by people in a white van in the 4500 block of South Hermitage Avenue Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. Police tape cordoned off an entire block along Hermitage and several high-caliber rifle casings littered the street. Residents of the neighborhood got permission from officers to duck under the tape to go to and from their homes while children played in the water spraying from a fire hydrant.

A vehicle matching the description of the white van crashed nearby, and two men ran from the scene and tried to pitch a weapon in a clothing donation bin in the parking lot of a gas station. The two fled. Later, they were taken into custody and a rifle was recovered, police said. As police worked this scene, another two people were killed in Englewood nearby.

Devon D. Reavley, 24, was shot and killed in a crowded area of Ogden Park as people barbecued and celebrated the holiday. 47-year-old Paul Hamilton, who was walking his dog in the park at the time, was also struck and killed.

Chicago Fire Department paramedics tried to resuscitate Reavley but got no response. Hamilton’s body lay motionless in a field close by. The paramedics rushed to load both bodies into ambulances amid the chaos of screams and shouts as police frantically pushed people back from the scene. 

Lacoah Curtis, who was grilling in the park with her family, packed up food and picnic supplies as the sun set and police told people the park was closed. An officer shined his flashlight so she could see better. Curtis grew up in the area but hasn’t been to a barbecue in a park in 10 or so years because she fears shootings. When she was in high school, she said, someone who wanted to kill someone else went and found that person, and shot them. But now, “people don’t care about shooting into a crowded park” and hitting innocent bystanders.

Members of the Chicago Fire Department work on a Devon D. Reavley, 24, at the scene of a fatal double shooting in Ogden Park Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Both Reavley and the other victim were killed.
A man clings to a woman near the body of a gunshot victim laying in the grass at the scene of a fatal double shooting in Ogden Park Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. The 47-year-old man was walking his dog in the crowded park as people celebrated the holiday when shots were fired from a vehicle and he was struck in the chest. He likely died at the scene.
 A member of the Chicago Police Department stands next the body of Paul Hamilton, 47, at the scene of a fatal double shooting in Ogden Park Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Witnesses said Hamilton was walking his dog in the park when he was struck and killed.
A member of the Chicago Police Department shines a light as Lacoah Curtis, right, cleans up her family’s barbecue at the scene of a double shooting in Ogden Park Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Curtis said she hadn’t been to a barbecue in a park in Chicago in years because of violence.

Halloween weekend, which saw unusually warm weather, was the deadliest weekend all year. Although police resources were increased to provide crowd control around Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs’ home World Series games, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the department was not short-handed in the South and West Side neighborhoods where most of the violence took place. The department cancelled days off and required mandatory 12-hour shifts for all officers. An officer on duty at a double homicide in the Back of the Yards neighborhood over the weekend, who wished to remain anonymous, complained about the long hours and last-minute notification. He gestured to a vehicle covered in a sheet behind him where two people lay dead: “Obviously it doesn’t always help.”

42 people were wounded and 17 people were killed between Friday and Monday over Halloween, pushing the number of homicides for the year past 600.

A member of the Chicago Police Department speaks to a man and woman dressed in costume at the scene of a shooting in the 7500 block of South Morgan Street Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in the Gresham neighborhood of Chicago.

Chicago Police

Ponchita Moore stands on the Metra tracks with other protesters in the 7100 block of South Jeffrey Avenue after the release of videos showing the fatal shooting of Paul O’Neal by Chicago police officers Friday, August 5, 2016, in Chicago.
Members of the Chicago Police Department push people back from the crime scene of a fatal shooting in the 3600 block of West Fifth Avenue Sunday, August 28, 2016, in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. A 38-year-old man was shot in the head and pronounced dead at the scene.

The Chicago Police Department and its procedures have been under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department since the release of a video showing a white officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, sparking protests and an overhaul of street stop procedures. Some veteran officers claim cops are dispirited and have slowed down on proactive policing that can remove a gun or criminal from the street. All officers are now required to wear body cameras.

18-year-old Paul O’Neal, another black teenager, was shot and killed by a Chicago Police officer during a car-jacking in July. Dash and body cam footage shows officers firing at the fleeing Jaguar police said was stolen while other officers appear to be in the line of fire. The videos then show officers chasing O’Neal on foot but do not show the fatal shot. The officer said he fired on O’Neal after he saw him reaching into his waistband. Reports said his body camera did not capture this part of the event.

A large group of people, including Ponchita Moore, gathered in South Shore to protest the shooting after the release of the videos. She held a sign reading “stop killing our kids” and helped delay Metra trains for several hours.

Chicago police officers, especially those who work overnight shifts in violent neighborhoods, can face volatile situations nightly. After 38-year-old Omar Kent was shot in the head in East Garfield Park in August, several dozen people gathered in the otherwise quiet, darkened street. Screams and cries could be heard as people arrived at the scene. A few people attempted to duck under the police tape and run to Kent’s body, his head resting in a puddle of water and covered by a white sheet. “You don’t want to remember him this way,” one officer repeated.

The same weekend, officers investigating a shooting in Englewood were confronted by about ten young men who hung around the crime scene shouting taunts and threats. One young person called a black officer a “traitor” while another filmed with a cell phone camera. “We got you on camera, fool,” he said. One person was detained after ducking under police tape but was later released. As the group grew more aggressive, officers drew their tasers and pushed them back from the scene.

“Y’all taking this seriously. We’re just playing,” said one young man.

Later, after the group dispersed, several gunshots rang out from a nearby alley, prompting two officers to run toward the sounds with their hands on their weapons. No one was shot.

A group of young males shouts at members of the Chicago Police Department at the scene of a shooting in the 7100 block of South Paulina Street Friday, August 26, in the West Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.
A member of the Chicago Police Department puts out kibble for a cat at the scene of a shooting in the 7100 block of South Paulina Street Friday, August 26, in the West Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.

 


Community reaction

Mattie McClinton sways her arms and calls out during a tent revival service at Union Missionary Baptist Church Thursday, July 21, 2016, in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. Pastor Raymond Hillman helped organize the revival in response to violence in the area. 34-year-old Lanarris Webster was shot and killed less than two blocks from the church the previous month.

Much of the violence can be linked to gang conflict over territory and drug dealing as well as easy access to illegal guns. There are deeper societal problems, though, including long histories of poverty and neglect by the city in some of the more crime-ridden neighborhoods.

13-year-old Leonardo Betancourt was shot and killed while driving with friends in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in May. Two older people in the SUV were gang members, according to police, but said Leo had no arrest record and was not in a gang.

His family, including his 6-year-old nephew Victor, who he walked to school most days, visited William H. Seward Communication Arts Academy Elementary School after the shooting to collect letters, poems and drawings written by Leo’s classmates. One student wrote, “I remember those long hate paragraphs we sent each other. I never meant it and I know you know I didn’t mean it. I said I’d buy you chips on Tuesday, but, I couldn’t because, you know. I hope you’re in a better place. That’s what everybody is saying.”

The family left Chicago several months later.

CAPS, the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, aims to bring members of the department and members of the community together to discuss and potentially solve crimes in neighborhoods across the city. Regular meetings are held in the different police districts and are open to the public. After a four-year-old boy was shot in the back in Englewood in July, CAPS helped organize a gathering on the block. Several officers stood in a circle and held hands with people in the neighborhood and said a prayer to end violence.

One preacher spoke: “Even though our presence is necessary here on the corner, as we come together, God, we still want to believe with all that is in us that your presence is always here. God, as we come together as a community to strategize, to listen, to live, to love, God, remind us most of all that you have called us to love you and to love one another…Teach us to love beyond all of our differences, beyond our different backgrounds and our different mindsets. Teach us to love one another the way you have loved us.”

People hold hands in prayer during a community gathering in the 5700 block of South Morgan Street Thursday, July 7, 2016 in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. A four-year-old was shot in the back on the block on Wednesday evening.
Victor Betancourt, 6, looks at letters and photos left by schoolmates of his uncle, 13-year-old Leonardo Betancourt, who was shot and killed in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, at William H. Seward Communication Arts Academy Elementary School Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Chicago. Leonardo frequently walked Victor to school.
From right, Kaleb Harrison, 15, Christian Johnson, 14, and Ronelle Johnson, 14, have their faces and hands painted at the “Peace in the Park After Dark” event at Nat King Cole Park Friday, August 26, 2016, in the Chatham neighborhood of Chicago. The overnight campout event is organized by members of the Chicago Police Department in honor of Thomas Wortham, IV, an officer who was killed during a robbery in the area in 2010.
71-year-old KathyŽé Dawoudi makes her way from her home to the bus stop in the 7600 block of South State Street Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in the Chatham neighborhood of Chicago. Dawoudi’s 23-year-old grandson was shot and killed at his apartment building in 2015 about two blocks from the stop. “I’m not going to let violence dictate me. For myself or any of my children,” she said. She packs her bags each morning and takes a bus to Mather’s, a cafe for seniors, and later swims at her local YMCA. “No matter how much pain I have,” she said of her emotions and her physical ailments, “I keep moving…Movement and getting around and doing stuff makes me feel better.”

This fall, about 28 young men were tearing down drywall and tossing bags of debris out the windows of condemned homes in the historic Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. They were deconstructing these buildings as part of a community renewal and jobs program initiated by the Emerson Collective, where former Former U.S. Secretary of Education and Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan is a managing partner. The program reaches out to young men with histories of involvement in gangs, drugs and violence in Chicago, many of whom have been shot and spent time in jail or prison, and offers them a chance to help themselves and the community by putting them to work. 

24-year-old Darius Fox said he was shot four times in front of a church when he was 17. It was a turning point in his life and it made him angry. He turned to selling drugs and spent three years in jail on a gun charge at 21. He said the program is helping him learn job skills, life skills and conflict management skills, all while working with other men with similar experiences.

“I like working a job. Just to have a job, that feels good, that help you feel better as a man…I ain’t gotta look over my back, I ain’t gotta watch out for the police, I ain’t gotta worry about the police kicking in my door, nobody’s trying to rob me. It’s a blessing. I feel good. I feel like a man.”

Brendan Taylor dances as his coworkers, clockwise from top left, David Johnson, Dimitri Chavez, Vincent Glover, Kyline Puritt and Antonio Barr laugh while on a break from deconstructing a house Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. About 28 young men are participating in a pilot program launched by the Emerson Collective meant to help them learn job skills and find future employment while participating community renewal in many Chicago neighborhoods.

(Statistics and other information via the Chicago Tribune and personal experience.)