Chicago's highest murder rate in Englewood

Community considers why the neighborhood has this distinction.

January 5, 2012

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(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Members of R.A.G.E. - Resident Association of Greater Englewood

Crime is falling in Chicago, but one neighborhood hasn’t felt that dip. According to the police department, in 2011, Englewood had more murders than any other police district in the city. Residents are aware of the glum statistics, but they have different theories about why their South Side neighborhood experiences such violence.

One is Harvey, a 16-year-old Englewood resident. He didn’t want to give his last name on the radio because of safety concerns. Harvey’s a peer mentor in an anti-violence program called the African-American Male Initiative. It works with dozens of Englewood youth.

HARVEY: Some of my peers listen to me because they understand that I’m right. I don’t want to go to their funeral, I don’t wanna see them dead. I wanna see them somewhere in life.

Like other Englewood residents, Harvey’s still reeling from the neighborhood’s latest heinous crime that made headlines. Last week four people were injured and two people died during a shootout at Church’s Chicken on Halsted Street.

Harvey knew one of the victims. He says a friend died senselessly while trying to enjoy the two-piece Tuesday deal at the fast food eatery. It’s easy to see why Harvey’s incensed. Over the last few years, the teenager has had five Englewood friends die violently.

HARVEY: Violence in Englewood – it’s going to increase unless the drug dealers, like the state, give them jobs. Give them more jobs out here and stop spending all the money on the jails.

The Englewood police district clocked in more murders in 2011 than any other district. The area’s crime problem is amplified because of other urban ills afflicting the neighborhood. Unemployment in and around Englewood is a whopping 35 percent. It’s also one of the poorest enclaves in Chicago.

JOHNSON: My name is Michael Johnson. I’ve lived in Englewood most of my life – around 19 years. The housing crisis really devastated our community and caused a lot of destabilization. Violence is just the a result of a lot of poverty. Crime is a reflection of poverty. People need things. So I think a lot more focus needs to be put toward changing the issues of systemic inequality in Englewood.

Johnson’s a member of group that many consider to be a bright spot in Englewood. It's called R.A.G.E., or Resident Association of Greater Englewood. The association doesn’t attack crime per se, but members work with youth in schools as a preemptive way to stop wayward behavior.

There’s one theory that Englewood is isolated from the rest of the city. But another R.A.G.E. activist named Asiaha Butler says that’s a myopic view.

BUTLER: If you don’t care about Englewood, you pretty much don’t care about the condition of the city and it’s happening all over. We have to look at it from a bigger point of view instead of just singling out Englewood as one of the violent areas in the city.

The district also ranks among the worst in the city for violent crimes. Ironically, Englewood is a heavily-policed neighborhood. So there’s plenty of police around. But not everyone is pleased with their approach.

Michael Tidmore is coordinator of the Englewood African American Male Initiative.

TIDMORE: Not just police but engage the youth. Put down your vest and your gun and bounce the ball with them. We need more people to come out and just be humane.

But Tidmore adds that it’s also up to residents to curb violence – starting with not being afraid of young people. Tidmore recalls the time he was on the block with a female friend and they passed a youth wearing a T-shirt with derogatory messages toward women.

The woman spoke up.

TIDMORE: She said take that shirt off and turn it around on the other side. And he took the shirt off and turned it around. And I was like surprised. He didn’t argue with her or say ‘What do you mean?’ He just took it off and turned it around because she didn’t show any fear.

It’s like what 16-year-old Harvey, the teenager who has had five friends die, says: He's tired of going to funerals.