X picked a route for us to take that went to the busiest spots first. The first was 856 North St. Louis Avenue in Humbolt Park. This was the address where Marcus Bassett was standing just after 5:30 p.m. when someone approached him on foot and began shooting. We pulled up to find three young boys running a dope spot on the corner just across the street from the site. X took a good look at them then gave me the go ahead to get out and photograph. As we walked across the street the boys started to walk off. One of them yelled out to ask what we were doing. X told him it was none of his business, then asked if he wanted to be on camera. As they walked away, a car pulled up to the corner. They waved him down to an alley on the side street. We watched them serve him. X made a comment about how much more he would see if he could drive around in a regular car instead of a patrol car. After we got back in the car, the kids began to make their way back to their corner.
Active dope spot looking very quiet
Next we headed to 1048 North Springfield Avenue where Dimitry Ratcliff was killed on December 19th of last year. X and I had to pass up this spot last time because it was a busy dope spot that was manned with 5 to 6 people. We pulled up this time and thought we were clear, but as we got closer, we saw a lone young man standing on the corner. X pulled back to park and a maroon van sped around us. It stopped in front of the man with the driver side window open. We watched a hand come out, an exchange, then another exchange, and then the van drove off. The man on the corner made no secret of the money he was counting. X decided we shouldn't stop, especially since he knew we just saw him sell drugs.
We headed a few blocks away to 918 North Harding Avenue to photograph the site of Johnny Washington's death. 16-year-old Washignton was killed in a shooting incident on December 19th. He was shot in the abdomen just before 6 p.m. and was pronounced dead 6:47 p.m. at Stroger Hospital. This address also fell just a stone's throw from a dope spot. After surveying the scene, X thought we would be fine if I got out. I photographed the area keeping a close eye on the group of young boys on the corner just a few lots away. After taking a few images, one of the boys began walking our way. He had his arms inside his white sweatshirt and his hood up over his head. I hurried to finish taking my last set of pictures and got int he car. Evading any trouble photographing at 3 dope spots this early in the morning made me feel pretty lucky. I didn't want to push it.
From there we headed south to 4134 West Wilcox. We also passed by this location last time, but couldn't stop because there were people in front of the building. We rounded the corner past a huge memorial that we saw last time. I was able to get a better look this time and saw that it was for a woman. After researching who she might be, I came up empty. The sheer size of it was amazing. See for yourself.
Wilcox was quiet except for a few old men that were raking leaves and sweeping dirt off the sidewalks. A lone man swept the curb in front of the site. He wished us a good morning and never looked back up at us. I pointed my camera at the mid-sized yellow brick apartment building where 21-year-old Erik Thompson was shot and killed by his aunt's boyfriend while he was trying to break up a fight between them. He was shot with a shotgun. There were several signs over the boarded up front door. One announced the management company, one stated that there were security cameras on the premises, and the last warned not to trespass. The man that was sweeping the curb wandered in and out of my frame, seemingly uninterested in why I was photographing the building he was cleaning up.
Our next site was a bit south and west. On the way there we passed 5 or 6 sites that we photographed last summer. X also pointed out the area under the viaduct in "K-Town" where all the hookers gather looking for tricks. I spotted a few walking on a side street as we passed.
We approached the next location from the south. Parkside was on a side street just off of Columbus Park that wound around an elementary school before it shot straight north. The top of the block was capped by the adjoining high school. Isaiah Carter, 18, was walking down the street at 24 South Parkside when he started talking to a group of people. One of them turned toward him and shot him in the chest. The shooting happened about 12:25 p.m. on November 13th. The exact location fell in front of a stretch of 2 lots that were gated and seemed to belong to the owner of a beautiful blue victorian home. As we pulled up, a woman with blazing red hair opened the front curtains and peered out at us through her window that's cracks had been repaired with masking tape. Beyond the large green gated yard was a trailer park walled off bby a tall wooden fence. It seemed to only take up one lot, but was a strange sight to see amongst all the houses in the area. Wind had blown garbage that got caught in the grass between the sidewalk and the street. I found the plastic casign to a toy gun in the debris.
The site we went to next was way west at 5754 West Chicago Avenue in Austin where Brian Moore, 29, was shot in the stomach and killed at about 8:20 p.m. on January 15th of this year. From the map below, you can see how close this address is to the line between the poorer neighborhood of Austin and the wealthy suburb of Oak Park, one of the most bizarre drawing lines I've ever seen. The line is even apparent from it's treatment on google maps, Austin is dusty and unclear and Oak Park is crisp and green.
drawing lines between Oak Park and Austin
Because of the location of this site, we passed some beautiful old homes that were in varying states of decay. They must have been part of the wealthy area at one point and been neglected as the rich moved even further out west. The spot where Briam Moore was killed was in front of Coleman's #2 Ribs & Tips. The storefront was in a long, low building that was painted red. The windows were covered in a black iron mesh. Across the street was a beautiful old banquet hall that looked like it had been abandoned years ago.
Cool old banquet hall
On the way to North Lawndale
We wrapped up there and headed to 1511 South Ridgeway in North Lawndale where 26-year-old Varick Hines was shot in the street multiple times just before 9 p.m. on December 20th. The street was lines with mostly single-family homes with the occasional multi-family unit. When we got there, school kids were coming out of many of the houses and walking north. It appeared to be a working class neighborhood full of families that cared about their houses and made sure their kids got to school. The only thing that stood out was a house about half way down the block where, at 9:00 a.m., a group of young men sat on the porch talking loudly and blasting rap music. If there was trouble on this block, that appeared to be the source.
Before continuing on, X and I decided to stop for some coffee and breakfast at a nearby Duncan Dognuts. Armed with caffine and food, X took me to see a few memorials that he thought were more impressive than the one we saw earlier in the day. The first was already cleaned up, but he explained that they built a race track with hundreds of henessey bottles. Not far from there on the 1500 block of South St. Louis was a massive memorial of Patron and Don Julio bottles that took up the whole front lawn of a brick three-flat. X said we couldn't stop because it was a big dope spot, but I took this picture as we drove past. I am conservativly estimating that there were 1,100 bottles on the lawn there.
1500 block of South St. Louis
We went by another memorial that X said must have been cleaned up and rebuilt because it was not as big as the last time he passed. It was still impressive. Who can afford all that liquor and who can drink it all?
Another impressive memorial
After touring me around to see all the massive memorials nearby, we headed to 2314 South Albany in Little Village where Jonathan Gonzalez was shot less than 100 feet from his home. The 19-year-old was shot about 7:30 a.m. on the street and taken in critical condition to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. X and I were here about a month ago to shoot, but they were doing construction on the house at the address. This time the block was quiet save for a few workers downt he street clearing brush from a yard. After a while, a car pulled in in front of the house and honked loudly. When there was no response, they yelled out the window to someone in the house. When we left, we passed by the Camino Club. The facade, which had previously been covered in gang graffiti was freshly painted.
We had also visited the next location before, but had to pass it up because there was a group of young men in front of the house that followed us into the alley where we were tryign to photograph. The last time, we drew their attention because we drove down the street slowly looking for the address before turning into the alley. This time, X thought we should go straight for the alley and see if we could figure out the address without going by the front of the house. We found the spot with no problems. An unidentified teenager was found there fatally shot in the alley at 4741 South Ada Street. The gates behind the address had a crushed modello can spiked onto one of the spears and there was a pair of white sneakers on top of the garage next door. A door that had been repurposed as a gate to the backyard of one of the houses across the alley had a hand written note warning to beware of dog. After leaving, we decided to go around to the front to make sure we had the right spot and to see if the boys were out. The block was empty. All that stealthiness for nothing. Better safe than sorry though.
The next location was a re-shoot at 928 West 50th Street in Back of the Yards where Ana Rosa Gonzalez and two other people were shot while in a moving vehicle. The car came to a stop after crashing into a fence at that address. Two of the victims lived, but Gonzalez was killed. The last time we shot here, we were on 50th place rather than 50th Street. It was the end of our day, so we decided to come back. There must have been so much damage to the fence that they removed it because there was no longer one in the yard although many of the other bungalow style houses on the block had them. A small group of people stood in front of a house a little east from the location and the occasional person walked by. As I photographed an old lady peeked out of the house nextdoor. X said that it was as if people can sense my camera. As soon as I start to photograph people look out the windows or come outside to ask what I'm doing. I wonder what made them come to the window in the first place?
We took 51st Street west to the next site, passing a soup kitchen that was flooded with people waiting in line outside for breakfast. 16-yea-old Jesus Monreal was shot and killed on Thanksgiving Day not too far from there at 1916 West 49th Street. Police say the shooting appeared to be gang related. The site was onthe sidewalk on front of a garage and backyard across the street from the elevated Metra tracks. The gated backyard was mostly brown from the wet dirt. A spring of grass came up here and there. There was a ripped up old easy chair leaning against the wall of the garage and some kids toys strewn on the ground. There were two DISHs on the garage roof. I could see through this yard to all the backyards down Winchester. After photographing, I looked at the light post that was covered in writing to find gang graffiti. As we pulled away I could see a woman inside the house through a side window decorating for Halloween.
The pitchfork is a symbol for the Folks gang. An upside down pitchfork is meant to show them disrespect
Next we headed to 5610 South Ashland where officers responded to a call for shots fired, found Demarion Brewer shot outside of a lounge at about 12:55 a.m. on December 2nd. There were utility men working in the sewers on the block which made me feel safe there. There was a Harold's Chicken that took up two storefronts and then a boarded up building. None of them had addresses on them. We peered into the windows of the abando to see if it looked like it was a bar and it looked more like the inside of a house. Stupefied, we began looking for other doors. X found a big black wooden door between the two storefronts of Harold's. He pushed on it and it opened. The door lead to a staircase. X put his hand on his gun and ascended the stairs. When he got to the top, he looked back down at me and shook his head. There was no bar up there. Back on the sidewalk, we debated. A man came up to unlock the metal shades in front of Harold's. He would know. I asked him about the bar and he pointed to the abando. He told us it had been closed for a couple of months. I thanked him and began photographing.
From there we went to the site where 19-year-old Arthur Burgess was killed, also on december 2nd, the same day as Brewer. 1805 West 56th Street led us to the street beside a large neighborhood food mart. X backed into the alley so that we could survey the area. As he was looking around, he remembered that he was on the call when Burgess as killed. He wracked his brain to remember where Burgess's body fell. After a few minutes he pointed to the ground in the street to the left of the car. That's exactly where his body was after he was shot. A delivery man was bringing cases of soda into the store as I shot. Every once in a while, I saw a head peak around the corner. Suddenly there were two young men trying to covertly watch me, but they were not very good at keeping themselves out of view. At one point one of them said loudly, "They got a camera." We finished up quickly and moved on to the next site.
Next we visited 5718 South Damen where Titus Mitchell, a 23-year-old man from Wisconsin was found shot in the head and chest in the gangway of the address. The house was not in great shape and the yard was over grown. There was a plastic bag hanging from the gate of the fence in front of the gangway that was filled with garbage. X pointed out the slatted mini-blinds on the first floor that make for good spying from the inside. On the way back to the car we saw a sign int he window of a hair salon announcing that they sell exclusive Indian hair.
The next spot was also a re-visit. The last time we drove by, the residents of the address were outside decorating for Halloween and doing yard work. This time it was quiet in front of 5706 South Mozart Street where Jacinto Crisanto lived. He was standing in the front yard of his house at about 7:30 p.m. on the day after Christmas when he was shot and killed. I don't know what Jacinto was like, but if these were his parents that lived here, they seemed like a hard working, nice family. It's always sad to visit these locations, but some strike me harder and this was one of them. As I photographed, I could hear the echo of hammering comming from behind the house. I peered down the gangway and saw that there was a man there working on fixing something.
The next site was just off Damen at 1945 West 63rd Street. On the way there X warned me that it was a bad area and that we might not be able to stop. Damen was busy, but around the corner in the abandoned lot where Luis Salvador was shot and killed on November 28th, I was protected from the chaos. The lot was flanked by the two tall brick walls from the surrounding buildings making the lot seem like a tunnel. There was a red car parked towards the front. On a fence across the back alley, it said "63rd BITCHES" in black spray paint. X called me back to go when he saw a man walking down the block suddenly change course twice. It appeared that he was shadowing someone a few blocks away. He would look down the block and suddenly turn around. Something weird was going on and we decided to get out of there just in case.
Not too far away from there, Montreal Montgomery, 17, was slain near his home at 2557 West 65th Street on November 21st at about 6 p.m. Police said he was shot in the head. The site was on the sidewalk along side a large red brick apartment building on a quiet residential street. X said that it was a good area and that most of the residents were working people. The area smelled horrible. X thought the smell may have been eminating from one of the abandos.
X and I were hitting a wall, so we decided to go to one more site before calling it a day. We went to 2638 West 71st Street to photograph the location where Marcus Miller, 18, was shot and killed on November 28th. The site was on the sidewalk on the north side of the street in front of an ice cream shop. There was a medical center next door. The ice cream shop was next to an empty lot that housed a big Vienna Beef cart that I assume comes out in the summertime. X asked me to be quick here because a group of young men were idling on the opposite corner. He didn't know what they were up to and wanted to be safe.
After today, X and I only have 12 more sites to visit.