Park Manor life, after Michael Bailey

July 23, 2010

The stretch of Evans Avenue where Officer Michael Bailey was shot in the Park Manor neighborhood – the third Chicago police officer in a matter of weeks – is flanked by the Love & Learn Academy on 75th and Henry Tanner Public School at 74th St. East a block on 74th, there’s a community garden with scattered bursts of flowers.

But Evans is a frankly shabby little street, with homes that are a bit worn and in need of care, and some boarded up houses. Weeds command a few yards. A rusted metal sign boasts the existence of a block club. There’s tons of stoop sitting, kids running around, and an imposing police squad car – much too late – guarding the Bailey family home.

When a grimy ice cream truck waddles onto Evans on a recent afternoon, children and adults descend like a screeching flock, arms flapping.

At the Presidential Lounge on 75th, about a block and a half away, Will, his wife Janice and his elderly father, Jeff, are having an afternoon cocktail and yakking about Bailey’s death.

“Ask me if I feel safe,” Will, 56, harrumphs. He’s pleasantly beer-bellied and wearing a white L.A. cap with the letters written in glittery stuff. “If these folks don’t have respect for the police and shoot them in their home, in uniform, what chance does the regular citizenry have, huh?”

“They don’t know who did it,” says Janice, who’s in her 40s. “They don’t know anything. For all we know, it could have even been the police themselves who killed Michael Bailey.”

Both Will and Jeff, lean and leathery at 77 and wearing a fedora inside the bar, oppose any effort to ban guns in Chicago – and they celebrate the recent court decisions against the ban – precisely because of incidents like Bailey’s killing.

“I can’t have a gun in my own home to protect myself and if I do I gotta lock it up? I be dead by the time I unlock it,” complains Jeff.

“The ban doesn’t work anyway,” says Will. “Two things that are easy to get in the city of Chicago are guns and drugs, no matter what the law says.”

At the Presidential Lounge, which predates Obama’s ascendancy but now basks iconographically in his triumph, no one under 30 is allowed in, legal drinking age be damned.

The bartender, Krista Johnson, 40, says that rule’s specifically because of the problems with violence in the area and is designed to keep out restless and troublesome youth.

“About a month ago,” she says, “two of our regulars were on their way here and saw a killing in the alley right around the corner. And people kept moving, like nothing. It’s like it’s expected, like it’s normal. I wasn’t surprised about Michael Bailey because lots of cops are being killed lately, and that’s becoming more common too now.”

Outside the lounge, the ice cream truck turns a corner, goes right by Bailey’s house, from Evans to 75th, followed by a gaggle of kids. They dance on the sidewalk, dropping the ice cream wrappings so they flutter down the street, sticky paper reminders that life goes on and on.