Thursday, September 4, 2008

News-Star Editorial: "We Must Keep ... Listening To One Another"

What is there to say? More questions than answers in Uptown slaying

There is something terribly wrong in Uptown and something terribly right. The city's most diverse community is full of vintage architecture, lovely tree-lined streets and residents of all ilks and colors who clearly adore their neighborhood.

Last Friday's midday shooting that left one teen dead and a second man critically wounded, however, was another setback for a neighborhood that is trying desperately to pull itself up by its bootstraps.

The conversation was angry in the neighborhood over the Labor Day weekend. By Saturday morning, there were 93 comments left on the neighborhood blog, Uptown Update. Some of the posters provided thoughtful commentary; others made divisive remarks that were simply uncalled for.

Residents who poured into the street Friday afternoon to watch police comb a Sheridan Road sidewalk for shell casings near the dead teen's body expressed similar fears and anger over the summer's increase in violence.

One girl, lighting candles for her fallen friend that Friday evening, angrily confronted the dog walkers and media watching the vigil, asking: "Why don't you go up the street and ask why this happened?"

In retrospect, she could have been asking us to talk to the individuals who shot her friend.

It has been a long summer in Uptown, where, since spring, more than a dozen shootings and two homicides have plagued this North Side neighborhood. While other surrounding neighborhoods continue to enjoy revived business districts and low crime rates, Uptown continues its long journey into the night.

In the wake of two midday shootings in July, residents on both sides of the neighborhood's economic spectrum began a respectful dialogue. At an emergency Town Hall meeting at Truman College, they started discussing the neighborhood's prevailing public safety issues.

It was clear that both sides wanted stronger political leadership that has been sorely lacking in Uptown. People want to feel safe in their neighborhood, and stakeholders have since come together to start developing strategies for reclaiming hope.

We mourn for our neighbor's dead child. No parent looks at his or her newborn baby and envisions that child one day lying dead on a sidewalk riddled with bullets. We also mourn for the shooter or shooters, who threw their lives away by claiming the life of another. Your parents have also lost a child.

Now is not the time for divisive rhetoric. Uptown must rise up as one community and keep the dialogue moving to resolve its continuing public safety issues. No matter what our differences are, we must keep working and listening to one another.

The only divide is what is thrust upon us by others who don't know our neighborhood.

The stakes have never been higher.


  1. Beautifully put. The leadership has let everyone down in this neighborhood. By focusing on one demographic to the exclusion of all of the others she endangers and brings the whole community down.

  2. Gee, I didn't expect such commentary to be acknowledged on this blog.

  3. Recall Shiller!

    She promotes violence by her lack of speaking out/up and her dividing the neighborhood between the very low low income and the hard working condo owners.

    Write your state reps and ask that they introduce recall legislation for all elected offices in IL.

  4. It's not just leadership. It's us. Each time we think of a neighbor, a business owner, a kid in a white T and baggy pants as "other," “less than” or “part of the problem," we make the gap wider. And we exacerbate and harden the divide when we categorize people like, "very low low income" and "hard working condo owners."

    Elected officials can help. But even the best and brightest cannot do it for us.

    When I made this neighborhood my home twenty-five years ago, it was raw, chaotic, and in an odd way deserted. Power didn’t live here. Money didn’t live here. Yet bit by bit, kid by kid, family by family, the neighborhood inched forward on a scale everyone can agree on as good---more jobs, safer housing, kids in school with books and a lunch.

    Uptown isn’t the way it is today because we failed; we’re just not done. Building communities is hard work, takes longer than any of us like, and demands more patience than most of us can muster year after year.

    But when our kids can fire at one another on a summer afternoon, you’ve got to know that the problems we’re grappling with are bigger than Uptown and bigger than politics.

    This Sunday after the shooting, I drove by the site with my daughter who asked about the goodbye message painted on the storefront. I told her what happened. She couldn’t imagine why a child would shoot another child.

    I don't think any of us can.

    This blog has been terrific for inter-neighbor communication, mobilizing political support and addressing quality of life issues. Perhaps UU will facilitate a conversation about what we can do together to help our kids. What about organizing teen tutors and/or mentors and partnering with the NPOs? Other ideas?

    Saskia: I’ll see your tome and raise you ;-))

    B: the recall vote came and went. It passed the House but failed the Senate by 3 or 4 votes, one of which was from our Senator. The bill can and should be reintroduced but even with Jones' resignation, I wouldn't hold my breath during this Gov’s administration.

  5. I am not one to lay blame at Shiller's feet all the time, in fact, I have been satisfied with their responses to my general questions about projects going on in the ward. That being said, I cannot believe how Shiller has not held a press conference, has not held a rally, has not sponsored a candlelight vigil, has not sent out a calming email/newsletter at least ACKNOWLEDGING the fact that our ward is under fire.

    Her lack of dedication to making Uptown hospitable to small businesses and economic growth is handicapping our community. Once the North Sheridan and North Broadway corridors are fixed up, the crime will drop. Period. This problem won't be stopped by us simply saying hello to people on the sidewalk who don't look like me. It's time to drop the Kumbaya idealism and start solving problems.

  6. I agree Leonista....if social service agencies were the answer, Uptown would be the SAFEST neighborhood in the city....

  7. Wilsonrez, I don't think anyone believes that social services alone is the answer. Nor can retail pull this cart. And Kumbaya idealism? It gets people off go, leonista, but you're right, it cannot sustain much of anything over the long-haul.

    So, what's next? Consider this a neighborhood RFP. Let's talk about what we do want and how we can make it happen.

  8. Suzanne: I agree with your thoughts as well, but you are wrong about mine. What is the constant arguement thrown at our feet on this blog? What was the only thing mentioned by COURAJ and JPUSA at the town hall meeting? Get involved in the neighborhood, mentor our teens, volunteer at a soup kitchen...blah blah blah blah blah. I think there are a lot of people in our neighborhood who believe the answer lies solely in our social service agencies. As soon as I see a Helen supporter talk about how to help our neighborhood in a way that doesn't revolve around volunteering free time at a social service agency, I'll gladly change my mind.

  9. Wislonrez: Volunteering time with teens is the only way to make a contribution. It’s just one idea. There are others. And there are other organizations to team with besides COURAJ or JPUSA. But volunteering your time and talent is where it’s at. Plug-'n-play neighborhoods don't ask much from its residents but Uptown needs more from its residents.

    The point is to DO something besides talk about how horrible it is. Don’t get me wrong, the talking is important, critical even, but to achieve something positive we eventually have to do something, right? So let’s start by brainstorming ideas and work our way up to action. Wilsonrez, what do you think will help? What do you want to see happen?

  10. I did something in the last election I voted for other candidate and not Helen.

    We go to work, we pay taxes we deserve a safe place to live.

    Why do I have to carry those that don't want to work or get a job?

    If it wasn't for me and my taxes there would be no place for them to live.

  11. Suzanne...Do you really believe what your saying?

    "together to help our kids" my kid isn't out there shooting. Please refrain from using "our", "we", and "us"

    I take no credit for those "kids" out there shooting. There are plenty of MEN the same age as the "kids" you mentioned that choose to live the right way. MEN that enlist and fight for our freedom. How about you grab every single mother you see walking down the street, cussing at thier kids, dressing like slobs and you shake some sense in to them before you put their failures on "us."

    That seems to be the popular thing now days. Make all the hard working people feel so much guilt, make them feel everything is societies fault, make them pay for others mistakes over and over and over again.

    Im tired of it Suzanne. Your way has failed long enough.

  12. The point is to DO something besides talk about how horrible it is.

    You haven't got a clue, do you?

    Many, many of the people who post here are also the people who attend CAPS meetings, are beat facilitators, court advocates, volunteers at local school councils, PTAs, and create, run, or participate in community organizations that try to make a positive impact on the community.

    I used to try to take my kids to the local park, but got tired of inheriting the responsibility of monitoring 5-10 unsupervised children that (as far as I know) were not my own.

    Sure, for a while, I had fun teaching the kids about how to make a water and baking soda rocket from an empty 2 liter bottle of pop and a rubber stopper.

    For a while, I didn't mind organizing the game of "Simon Says" for all the kids.

    I enjoyed working with some of the other kids in the neighborhood when we planted flowers and created artwork to display in the community.

    I didn't enjoy seeing our work trampled over by others who couldn't care less about our efforts.

    What I did mind was breaking up the fights between mere children, maybe 6-12 years old, who incessantly called each other "mother fucker" and "nigger" - without a parent to teach them wrong from right anywhere to be found. Ever.

    What I did mind was constantly having to make my kids walk around the bums sleeping in the grass with empty beer cans strewn all over the place on our way to school at 7:30 AM.

    What I did mind was seeing people urinating and defecating in the alleyway and using my neighborhood as an open sewer.

    What I did mind was people getting shot on my street corner.

    Please don't lecture me about "plug and play" neighborhoods and blame me, or more generally, the readers of this blog for the state of Uptown.

    The fault lies squarely with the political leadership in the ward, the city, and our state who have sold us all short, then, like you, tell us it is all of our own making for not doing more.

    Screw that.

  13. Okay Suzanne, I'll get'er started, To Do List:
    1.Close down the known "problem buildings" that harbor drug dealers and gang members. We were told at our last CAPS meeting that one owner in particular is always in court and always wins. His building grosses $418,000 per year and he owns many of them so he can afford god attorneys. Drugs are the cancer of this community.
    2. Stop the selling of booze on Sheridan from Lawrence to Foster. It is being sold to the homeless and alcohol abusers who then drink/urinate/sleep in public
    3. Recall Schiller again.
    4. Let it be known to Mary Anne Smith that her lack of involvement is not going unnoticed and will no longer be accepted. Aldermen stay out of each others' wards as a level of respect but what respect is there when one Alderman pushes her unwanted element to her borders?
    5. Improve dialogue between the classes. Politicians prefer an election divided by race and/or classes because it's an easy one to manage, especially when one outnumbers the other. We know we want the same thing, streets free of drugs and violent crimes. So with this common goal we should be able to come together.
    That's a start, what else?

  14. I feel some of you are being a little hard on Suzanne. While some of her phrasology is reminiscent of our good friend Ron; I believe she's coming from a different idealism. (I could be wrong though.) I didn't get the coddle the criminal cudgel the cop theme from her post. What I don't think she (and many others) realize is that neighborhoods, like individuals, can suffer burn-out. No one has ever answered my question of how much poverty Uptown can carry. As of the last census, Uptown (60640) was 62 on the list of 100 zips with the highest poverty rates. The median income was below the city and state median as I recall. The area is 70% rental (hardly over run with us evil condo owners.) I simply find it hard to believe that anyone would expect a middle income area to support more than its fair share of poverty.

  15. Let it be known to Mary Anne Smith that her lack of involvement is not going unnoticed and will no longer be accepted. Aldermen stay out of each others' wards as a level of respect but what respect is there when one Alderman pushes her unwanted element to her borders?

    How exactly is she doing this?

  16. 1. A zoning variance was approved and passed by Schiller for the Day Labor office across the street from the boys and girls club and two schools. The was also the location of last week's murder.
    2. Wilson Yards is within 1/4 mile of her border.

  17. Let me clarify, Schiller is pushing her unwanted element to her border and Smith is accepting it.

  18. Wislonrez: Typo. My earlier post should have read, “Volunteering time with teens ISN'T the only way to make a contribution.” Funny, though, how strong the reactions were that followed.

    Uptownrefugee: Like many of the other Uptown residents you noted, I’ve worked on community policing, taken errant landlords to court, volunteered at schools (and not just my daughter’s), created, run, and participated in community organizations (still do), drafted legislation, and testified at numerous hearings. No success was won by one person; it took a lot of work from a lot of people. Critical mass. Calling for more participation is just what it is---an invitation; it's not an indictment.

    GunniRez: This is the kind of post I was hoping for. We had to create one hell of a record when we fought to clean up 4848 and other problem buildings along Kenmore years ago. With a record and the court advocates, the neighbors should prevail. At least we did then. Did the CAP rep say why that one owner always wins?

    If you’re game for tackling the problem building owner, I am too. Perhaps some of the other posters would also like to work on this issue. Call me at 773-718-2822 or email me at

    Bradley, thanks for the assist. Living in Uptown has, to some degree, made me idealistic. No doubt. But my approach is borne more from a pragmatic policy perspective. Btw, who is Ron? I'm drawing a blank.

    Off for dinner and DFA meeting. If anyone else is hungry or feeling particularly political, meet us over at Furama, 2nd floor.

  19. Suzanne, some of us know that you have "a clue" and that you've done a lot for Uptown.

    I know you hope to also make a difference at the state level (and I'll vote you again next time, too) but I have to say it -- you'd make one hell of an alderman!

    Many thanks.

  20. The only thing I didn't like about this story, was the vague implication that the Uptown Update blog is filled with divisive comments.

    The UU blog is, in my opinion, one of the reasons that over 400 people showed up for the neighborhood concern meeting at Truman College! That is an astounding thing.

    Sure, we bitch and complain, but we DO shine the spotlight on the basic 'wrongs' of Uptown.

    And it's usually Shiller.......