Violence rises, city fights back

By Aviva Einhorn

Chicago’s worsening reputation for gang violence may soon change as the Chicago Police Department deploys more resources into the city’s most troubled areas.

In response to a recent streak of homicides and an increase in gang activity in the Englewood and East Garfield Park communities, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy launched an initiative Jan. 23 to expand police units in those areas.

According to a written statement released by the mayor’s press office, the combined 7th and 11th police districts accounted for approximately 25 percent of murders and shootings citywide in 2011 and one-third of all incidents in the first two weeks of January 2012.

Englewood residents are hopeful that more police in the area will make the community safer, but skepticism remains regarding how much can really be done.

The Rev. Michael Matthews, a resident of the South Side neighborhood, said throughout the decades, he has watched it turn from a pleasant middle-class area into a battleground.

Matthews said he thinks more police could be the solution to decrease gang violence if officers are willing to abandon the traditional hierarchical role and try to understand the community.

“I think more cops patrolling the community will deter crime,” he said. “But I think it’s important that police try to have a relationship with our residents. Give us a chance to show them that we’re not all gangsters and thugs.”

Matthews works at Delmar’s Barber Shop, 6459 S. Morgan St., with owner Delmar Dunn. A South Side icon and beloved barber, Dunn has lived in Englewood for 55 years and has a street named after him.

According to Dunn, the violence is not as bad as some media portray it.

“It’s bad, but it’s not that bad,” he said. “I’ve been here 55 years, and I hardly ever see any of the things they talk about in the news.”

Matthews said Dunn’s respected stature has kept him from ever making any enemies and perhaps sheltered his view of the reality of Englewood.

“Don’t let him fool you,” Matthews said. “It’s a war zone out here.”

According to Matthews, just as residents fear police, police also fear the residents, which creates barriers and inhibits critical communication. Englewood needs police who are open to regular input from the community, he said.

“We only have one image of police in our community,” Matthews said. “An image of being lined up against cars while they search us down, or of them flying through the community like vigilantes. That’s the only image we have.”

He said he believes that in order for progress to be made in Englewood, there needs to be an understanding between residents and police that goes beyond simply crime and arrest.

“What if police were to stop their cars without cause once in a while and approach our residents to say, ‘Hello,’ or to reassure us that they are here to protect us and that they care about the community?” Matthews said.

The Rev. Dr. Gerald M. Dew, of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 6248 S. Stewart Ave., said many public servants and professionals who provide service to the community no longer live there, and that alone creates a significant disconnect from the community.

“From my perspective, there has not always been an amicable relationship between law enforcement and the African-American community,” Dew said. “So even though the increase in violence may necessitate an increase in police presence, more police may not necessarily be a positive thing.”

He said in order to truly redevelop a community, you have to live in that community.

Newly appointed 7th District Commander Leo Schmitz said a major part of the initiative that will concentrate police resources in Englewood and East Garfield Park is getting to know the community.

“I’ve been spending days now meeting with people in the 7th District [and] we want to know what’s going on,” Schmitz said. “We want to know what the problems are and we want to be able to help them.”

According to him, police will begin paying closer attention to the amount of foot patrol done in Englewood. He said he recognizes the importance of getting to know the residents on a more casual basis.

Schmitz added that as part of the initiative, officers will routinely meet with community leaders and hope to get to know them and forge relationships with them.

“Let’s face it, we race in every time there’s a problem,” Schmitz said. “So we meet people when there’s already a bad situation happening. But with this initiative, walking around, hopefully we’ll get to know the people we need to be talking to. The people that we’re here to protect.”