Englewood consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. For those who don’t live there and are unlikely to ever visit, WGN offers you a glimpse of life on the streets. In just twelve hours, we witnessed more trouble than most will see in their lifetime.
Weather wise, it was a perfect Friday night. The rain stopped so it was nice and cool outside. After we got blown off by a couple of big groups hanging out in a liquor store parking, we met 21-year-old James Jones taking a break from his construction job. He was working at an apartment complex around 68th and May. When asked what Englewood is like, Jones replied, “Crazy! Blue lights – you hear the sirens don’t you. That’s what you have all day every day. It’s Englewood.”
It’s Englewood. That’s a refrain we’d hear over and over. It’s Englewood, as if that explains all that is wrong in this part of town. It’s the kind of place where something as simple as a dice game could turn deadly because a group of men are hanging out. As a neighbor explained, “Right now they’re set up for a good drive-by. Somebody could come down drive down the street and light ‘em up. They don’t even think about that.”
Sue and her sister Diana grew up in Englewood living 50 years on the same block. According to Sue, “It’s just not safe around here anymore. It’s not safe in the daytime and damn sure not safe at night.”
Diana believes some of the problems are because people don’t know their neighbors. As difficult as it can be, Diana says she raised her children right, “My oldest daughter works at the county jail. My other daughter works at the hospital downtown with the kids that are sick and dying. I’ve got good kids.,” she says.
Not all are so fortunate. Michael Westley was 15 when he was shot and killed by a Chicago Police Officer in June. A report says he was pointing a gun at officers during a foot chase. We met Michael’s grandfather by chance when he rode by us on his bike. R. L. Brooks told us he felt he let his grandson down, “I did time in prison. I did a lot of time and my kids became victims of me and my time.” He added that the lack of parental guidance trickles down to the next generation.
In the past three months, there have been more than 500 violent incidents, about a dozen murders, and even more shootings.
Englewood’s reputation makes it tough on business. Down a main drag, the hardware store is locked up tight for the night. The owner’s cousin said he’s not coping with the violence. Still, he stays saying, “I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed for what we’re doing to one another.” Across the street at the beauty supply store, Deanna is working to pay the bills. She hears the violence outside the shop, “Shootings from gang fights. It’s just sad.”
In fact, we’ve been in Englewood only a few hours when we saw the all too familiar flashing blue lights. We followed to Rosie’s porch. “On Friday’s Saturdays and Sundays – that particular house there is always something going on,” according to Rosie.
A young woman accidentally shot the man who fathered her baby. It’s hard to watch, but Rosie did from her front porch. It doesn’t scare her away as she told us, she’s lived in the area for more than 30 years. “I still sit on the porch. I sit regardless I sit on the porch because – that’s true they can’t bullets don’t have no names but the thing about it is you still stay there for people. You still have to try and do what’s right.”
And while police investigate the shooting steps away, a group of kids are playing basketball. Most Chicago kids don’t witness a shooting in their front yard. When asked how they cope with the cameras and police tape, the kids responded, “Play ball! Takes our mind off things.”
As one police shift ends another takes over. We joined Sergeant Sebastian from Englewood District 7 on the third shift – 9 to 5 am. For the last four years, the Sergeant has patrolled this small, but volatile section of Englewood. “Crazy comes out when I come to work,” he says.
And crazy stays out. Englewood never sleeps he says. “These 12-13 year old kids are out here at 2-3-4 o’clock in the morning. Does your mother even know where you’re at?” he says.
Yet as tough as it is, he admits there is a lot of good in Englewood saying, “You know I can take you through the neighborhood that are absolutely beautiful that you and I would love to live in. And there are some that you don’t even want to step foot in them. So Englewood has it all.”
And sure enough, our first stop of the night was good, not bad. We were flagged down by a group of kids worried about a dog left injured and tied to a fence.
From puppies the next call was a person with a gun. We watched as officer searched a group of young men looking for weapons.
As the Sergeant explained, “What happens now is, everybody just kind of searches where everybody was. A lot of time you’ll find guns, under porches, bushes and stuff like that. And then we’re gonna run their names and see if there are any “wants” (warrants) for them to find out who they are, why they’re out here and where they’re from and then we’ll be on our way.”
Around midnight, we head out on our own and met up with community activist Andrew Holmes in his tricked out surveillance van. Holmes is like a roving crisis counselor for the victims of violence. Holmes says, “I’d rather be in Englewood to save a lot of lives and a lot of souls and educate those who don’t have fathers.”
It’s 2 in the morning and Englewood is wide awake. The cops call this trouble time, the time when calls come in. That’s when we hear shots fired once again. When we arrive, a group of young men are being questioned in a stance we saw here all night: Hands placed on the car hood while friends and relatives watch and wait.
Down the road we see it again. For us it’s our last call. It’s 3 in the morning. We’ve gotten a peek, only a glimpse of life in Englewood. We met good people, good police officers and yet we’ve seen the sadness where there are no easy solutions. We heard the word respect a lot. Respect each other, respect life.
None of the individuals we saw was arrested or charged for any wrongdoing.