By: Vince Wallace
With all due respect to the brothers & sisters who are out there trying to lift the South Side from the despair of the #Chiraq label, on Friday night about 11:30 pm the area around 93rd and Wallace Ave. sounded like a war zone. That’s the only way to describe it.
I live in the area, Washington Heights. It’s a bedroom community with neighborhoods marked by rows of 40-50 year old bungalow houses, tree-lined streets that teachers, city workers, even a few cops call home. Hearing gunshots is, unfortunately, a fairly common occurrence. But the level of firepower that announced itself half a mile in every direction on Friday night was far from ordinary. It was terrifying and I took to social media to describe what was going on and hopefully hear some information back from others about what was happening.
Later I found out I was wrong about the number of shots fired. Saturday morning, crime scene investigators marked close to 70 rounds spent at the scene. That wasn’t the only information that needed adjustment. The original story was of a traffic stop gone wrong. That characterization would come into question as well.
All of this took place right in front of a school, Rudyard Kipling Elementary School. Saturday morning the school eagerly expected a group of volunteers from local service group Chicago Cares to come and do some painting as part of a massive volunteer service weekend with projects all over Chicago. They arrived as scheduled Saturday morning – a small army in purple t-shirts. The buses that transported them were directed around the police barricades that surrounded the school on all sides. The volunteers stepped off the buses, gathered in the gymnasium, got a pep talk from their project coordinator, and Kipling Asst. Principal Dr. Regina Hampton. Then they got to work on improving the school grounds with no idea that the area around them had been ripped apart by a hail of gunfire less than 12 hours before they arrived.
A few hours before the shootout WTTW’s Chicago Tonight aired an illuminating week-in-review segment. The panelists from the Sun-Times, the Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business discussed a proposed lighting initiative that supporters believe will transform Chicago into the “Paris of the Midwest”. Panelists were divided about whether such a move is really the right priority for Chicago at the moment. Mary Mitchell of the Sun-Times was quite adamant that it isn’t. John McCarron at the Tribune agreed and said:
“If you’re the mayor understand there’s two cities, I mean let’s admit it. And you got to be able to chew gum and walk at the same time. I mean you got to be able to deal with the fiscal problem, and the violence problem and so you’re absolutely right about that” (follow the link at the bottom of the page for a full review of the conversation).
“The solution to all this is not marching”.
There are some indications from the community that the first reports on the shooting incident may not be entirely accurate. Eyewitnesses and people close to the persons involved insisted that it was not a routine traffic stop. More than one person described a pair of Chicago Police Department gang unit SUVs boxing the suspect vehicle – the grey Buick pictured above – from the front and rear along Wallace Ave. That description is consistent with commonly observed police tactics used when suspect vehicles are considered dangerous. The car was believed to be connected with persons who fired shots at officers on Thursday night. Believing someone in the vehicle was armed police demanded they come out and drop any weapons. The man and woman inside the vehicle did not respond fast enough and the police fired one shot, probably a warning shot. The man in the passenger seat opened fire. “It sounded like he had a machine gun”, one witness said. The police rammed the car front and back and returned fire heavily.
One of the two police vehicles involved and the Buick police located and blocked in
There are some questions about the identities of those involved. While reporting says the suspects were recovering in the hospital some believe that the driver and gunman were killed, while those in police custody at Little Company of Mary Hospital were actually driving a second vehicle and took off running in opposite directions once the shooting started. This version of events should compel further investigation since it is one possible explanation for the pair of police helicopters that were surveying the area after the shooting.
Understandably, those with knowledge of the incident declined to be identified publicly.
Even with conflicting versions of events there was tell-tale evidence all around and the neighborhood was out and talking. One member of the community pointed to the place where a bullet ripped through the drain pipe, right below a bedroom window. Though the South side is known for sporadic violence, this was beyond the norm considerably. People were fed up. Asked about the actions of the police one person said, “They [gangs] come and ride around here all the time. And there wasn’t no [police] brutality. You can’t blame the police for all this. The solution to all this is not marching”. Another chimed in, “Gangs plant people in the CAPS meetings, in the block club meetings. Take down what you say. If you say something they don’t like you get a brick through your window”.
Friday night marked a significant escalation in the level of violence taking place in Chicago neighborhoods. The pattern spans multiple neighborhoods in multiple wards. No single community can successfully confront this epidemic alone. The South Side needs some backup.
“A volunteer experience”
Chicago Cares volunteers setting up garden boxes with CPD still on scene. Volunteers from Chicago Cares touching up Rudyard Kipling Elementary School the morning after a shootout injures 2 Chicago police officers. Joe Weiss, project coordinator for the trip to Kipling Painting & stenciling the hallway. The crime scene investigators were finished in the early afternoon, but the block remained roped off and police maintained their presence as the Chicago Cares group worked around the school grounds. A couple of the volunteers heard that something happened last night. Most thought it was just a traffic accident since the police SUV and the Buick they rammed were still there. They painted hallways, took care of weeds in the playground, painted a map of the world on the blacktop, and put together garden boxes for the biology classes to plant and learn. It was a real flurry of good-hearted activity.
Some could be cynical about why a bunch of folks from downtown and the North Side would take an interest in a school all the way across the city. But for the people who made the trip, and brought along friends and family to lend a hand during this massive citywide volunteer event cynicism be damned. They believe in making a difference. They believe in stepping up to be instruments of change. In essence, they want to bring the two Chicagos together through service to prevent us being brought together by the daily repetition of collective tragedy.
The mission statement on the Chicago Cares Twitter profile reads, “Chicago Cares builds volunteer experiences that mobilize and inspire people to make Chicago a stronger community.” You can see how that “volunteer experience” translates to action in the Serve-a-thon pictures posted on their feed and the photo album in this article. The man (and woman) power, along with the funding for materials all came from Northwestern Memorial Hospital – an institution that is no stranger to the effects of Chicago gun violence. 3 (or 4) busloads of people came to the South side with swimming pools worth of paint and enough rollers for every hand to demonstrate the transformative power of volunteerism. Lead coordinator Joe Weiss brims with pride talking about the project and his crew which included his son.
Chicago cannot, and will not stay separated from itself forever. We have a choice whether we will come together in service or through tragedy. One side of town cannot stem the tide of violence alone. The people at Northwestern Memorial, one of the dwindling number of level one trauma centers in the city, know that it can’t. The Chicago Cares bi-annual Serve-a-Thon can be a memorable afternoon or the beginning of something more. Chicago needs it to be something more. Groups like Ceasefire/Cure Violence, church groups and others have the desire to take ownership of their communities and build a more peaceful city. But they’re often isolated and exhausted facing summer after summer of an ever-intensifying uphill battle without much help from an Emanuel administration that either treats them like part of the problem, or manipulates crime statistics to justify disregarding the problem altogether.
Through their efforts the people of Northwestern Memorial Hospital could change the destinies of hundreds or even thousands of Chicagoans. The opportunity is real. Instead of one day wheeling a man who used to be a Kipling student into surgery, the day could come when they quietly staff an empty emergency room on a hot, summer Friday night. That kind of impact is a volunteer experience worth building.
So on behalf of Washington Heights, I’d like to thank Chicago Cares for coming by to see us. Please, don’t be a stranger.
The full Chicago Tonight Panel video
Since 1991, Chicago Cares volunteers have completed more than 1.4 million hours of service through over 30,000 group volunteer projects.Chicago Cares builds volunteer experiences that mobilize and inspire people to make Chicago a stronger community.
We work closely with community leaders to identify and research critical needs and develop targeted programs which mobilize thousands of volunteers to address those needs. Our programs make Chicago a better place to live for everyone. We inspire people to give of their time and energy, creating a real sense of community and shared responsibility.