50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 16th Ward’s Charita Hawkins looks for escape from Back of the Yards

June 18, 2012

(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Charita Hawkins, with Janae, walking by Sherman Park in Back of the Yards.

Charita Hawkins spends her evenings working as a security guard on Chicago’s North Side, in the Irving Park neighborhood.

“It’s just basically keeping watch,” Hawkins says. “The area is really secure. It’s nothing really going on over there. I work in a residential building. I just sign people in and out and that’s it.”

And then Hawkins goes home, to Back of the Yards, “and just feel nervous, yeah.”

“I got to deal with it, yes,” she says. “This is the hood. And this is, what it is.”

Hawkins’ negativity about her neighborhood is rooted in a couple things. First, the area’s been rocked by some particularly visible violent crimes this month.

“This is a very bad neighborhood. This is Motown,” Hawkins says. “Five people just got shot on 51st and May. Then on the other side of Halsted – on 50th Place – five people just got shot.”

The other reason I think Hawkins is so down on Back of the Yards is this: she doesn’t really think of it as her neighborhood, having only moved here six months ago. She grew up in nearby Hyde Park.


“Hyde Park is comfortable. You see elderly outside all times of the night. They’re running with their dogs. They’re not looking over their shoulder. The policing over there is – like – top notch. I fell like it’s a secure area. It’s very secure. I love Hyde Park. And when I get my money together I definitely will be going back there. It’s really expensive over there, though.”

For now, Hawkins will have to stay in Back of the Yards. As we chat, her boyfriend’s daughter, Janae, stands quietly by her side. They were walking to the Currency Exchange when I stopped them.

“[My boyfriend] doesn’t even allow me to walk through these areas. I have to walk on main streets. I can’t walk through the neighborhoods at all,” she says. “He’s nervous because they shooting all the time.”

I ask Hawkins if there’s anything she likes about the area. Everyone I’ve talked to seems to like something about their neighborhood, no matter how rough. Some say they like their neighbors, others say the parks.


“Sherman Park is really beautiful. It looks nice. It has a nice atmosphere,” Hawkins says. “But the people is what does it. It’s the people that makes it unsafe. The park is beautiful and I wish that I could use it more. But I don’t because I don’t know if they going to start shooting.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says there are more beat cops on the streets. Hawkins has noticed more police, but doesn’t think it’s doing anything.


“[Emanuel] says he stomping down on crime but I don’t see no big of a damn difference,” she says. “Rahm Emanuel ain’t know nothing. He ain’t no better. He a big crook just like [former Mayor Richard] Daley, so it’s all the same….You knew when he got another mayor he was going to be a crook too, so it is what it is. That’s how I feel.”

Hawkins says she wants the mayor and the alderman to do something to stop crime, but she doesn’t know what they can do. There’s an inevitability to it, she says.

“These guys out here, they’re going to hustle. They’re going to do what they got to do. And it is what it is. That’s just what I’m seeing,” Hawkins says. “It seems like once [police] get a lot of them out, then more comes and they’re starting young. So, as soon as the big guys leave, you got the younger guys taking their place, so I don’t know.”

Some people I’ve talked to say more job training programs for youth would reduce crime by giving potential law-breakers an alternative. Hawkins says that might help.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. And some kids are lazy. I don’t know what it’s going to take.”