Friday, September 16, 2011
At 7:10 am on Tuesday morning I got a text from X telling me that he’s just finishing up a PB&J sandwich and he is on his way. By the time I got up, brushed my teeth and got together my gear, I already had a text that read “here.” I climbed into X’s car and we headed to the station with a list around 80 new addresses to look up. When we arrived, roll call had just let out so the first floor of the police station was buzzing with activity. We went down into the bowels of the building and pulled up chairs in front of a computer in the corner of a large empty room and began systematically going through the addresses. We obtained them all within a half an hour and had all we needed to set out and photograph by 8:30 am. We pulled off the side of the road just outside the station and mapped out the sites for the day. X put 7 little crosses next to the places he thought we could photograph before I had to be at work.
Our first location was at 2725 West Madison where 59-year-old Michael Socki was found beaten to death and decomposing in his West Side apartment. The apartment was in a large 3-story brick complex. Both newer looking gray stones and older run down single-family homes, some of which were boarded up, surrounded the building. X was familiar with the neighborhood. He pointed out a dope spot just to the west of us across the intersection and also a complex of newer looking section-8 housing to the east. As I was photographing, I heard X start giggling. I looked up and a group of about 8 twenty something year old kids came out of the gray stone next door. Each one of them was a different ethnicity. It was like a Benetton commercial or a photograph you’d see in a pamphlet for a college that was advertising their multiculturalism. I’d never seen anything like it. X and I watched as they passed, walking westbound probably towards the train or bus.
From there we headed to 2605 West 15th Street where Pedro Velez was sitting in his car outside of his home when two gunmen in a gold SUV opened fire on him. He was dead at the scene. This tiny residencial strip of 15th street was a few blocks off Western. It was flanked by a huge hospital about two blocks to the west and a clump of old warehouse buildings to the east. We passed a warehouse on the way to the site that was surrounded by white movie trucks. I asked X if he thought maybe they were the trucks for Superman, which they are currently filming in Chicago (or Autumn Frost as it is being advertised). He said that lots of movie set up their trucks here and that most likely I was right. Pretty cool. We had to go around the block to get to the site since it was on a one-way street, and as we pulled around, X recognized the location. He had been on the call when Velez was killed. He remembered thinking about how horrible it was that Velez was in such close proximity to a hospital when he died. The site of Velez’s death was on the sidewalk across from his home just outside the gates of a huge parking lot for hospital workers. While I photographed, X went to talk to the security guard for the lot to ask about the movie. She confirmed that it was in fact Superman. He also told her about my project. She remembered hearing about the shooting and thought my project was interesting. He said she was a really nice lady.
After leaving this site we went to 2115 South Millard Ave. It was here that 55-year-old Bobby Butler was shot and killed when he came to the aide of a 26-year-old woman who was being robbed at gunpoint. She was getting in her car after walking from a close by el stop when an armed man approached her. When Butler tried to intervene he was shot. The address sat across the street from a beautiful mid-sized Victorian house painted in shades of brown. The house was on the north side of an alley and had about three lots worth of yard, perfectly manicured and fenced off with fancy wrought iron gating. Through the trees you could see the Central Park Pink Line stop that the young lady must have been coming from. The house was across from a huge empty lot that opened up onto Ogden, the train tracks, and a IN OUT Mini-Mart that’s side wall was filled with beautiful purple graffiti. Right next to the site was a fresh sticker stuck to a telephone pole that read, “If you see something, say something.”
Next we headed to 2659 West 24th Street in Little Village where Robert Vela was shot and killed. X told me that Vela, known as “Robby V,” was a big well-known SD. He pointed out the houses where the gang members lived. One was on the north west side of the intersection we were photographing. After a warm night, all the windows were left open. Above the front door in black marker it read, “Fuck da police.” Behind this house, a little north on Washtenaw was another gang house. The siding was green and white checkered and all the windows were open in that house as well. There was gang graffiti on everything, even engraved in what was once the wet cement of the sidewalks and roundabout in the middle of the intersection. There were two small divvy looking bars on both the northeast and southwest corners. The most amazing thing was that on the corner where Vela was killed there was a gated off lot where someone had placed a large rock with a massive wooden cross atop it. Behind this structure there was a car, seemingly placed there as part of a memorial. X and I whispered so as to not draw attention from the open windowed houses. It remained quiet as I photographed the site.
Jonathan Gonzales was killed just a few blocks away. We tried to go to that site, but there were construction workers at the location so we kept driving. We’ll have to go back on a weekend when work has ceased.
The next location was 2811 South Archer Avenue where Jose Orozco was with a woman when a gunman opened fire on them. The woman was unscathed, but Orozco was killed. The location brought us to the backyard of a rundown white house on a busy commercial street. We pulled around into the alley. I trudged into the empty overgrown lot next door so that I could train my camera on the sunken backyard that was between the house and the garage. The white paint on the backdoor was peeling off and through the overgrowth I could see kids toys strewn about the yard. I imagined Jose being trapped in there when he was killed.
Our last location for the day was at 1338 West Hastings where 59-year-old Benjamin West was found beaten to death in a Chicago Housing Authority play lot. X and I parked and walked into the housing complex. As we were coming in a young man with no shirt on and two girls walked out of a close by apartment. He called out “Young money!” (Later I found out that this is Lil Wayne’s group) and the girls walked off. He turned to us and asked what the camera was for. X began to tell him it was for a project when his phone rang. I continued to explain to him that we were photographing sites of homicides and that someone was killed here. He responded by nodding his head and saying, “Yeah, that was a minute ago.” I said that yes it happened last year. He told me he heard the guy was a good dude and muttered something about stupid drunks. He went inside and I photographed the severely neglected play lot. As we left, a young woman and her child were sitting out on their stoop. I waved and smiled and she waved back. We were done for the day.