For most of June, Amanda Williams’s children have been happy to jump all over the new couch she ordered — or at least the half of it that FedEx delivered.
“I’ve called a couple times. I’ve left some notices in their customer surveys and those kinds of things,” said Williams, an artist who lives in the Bronzeville neighborhood. “But, essentially, they’ve got some kind of order to suspend deliveries that hasn’t been lifted yet.”
Like many Chicagoans, Williams only learned that FedEx Ground suspended service in certain parts of Chicago after hounding the company. Williams said a customer service representative told her it was because of civil unrest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
“I kind of went on a rant and said, ‘You know, I promise you that someone who has my address on the North Side of the city is not missing a portion of their delivery today. And that seems extremely unfair,’ ” Williams recalled.
Since many Americans began sheltering at home in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping has exploded. Shipping services, such as FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, have struggled to keep up. But the added delivery issues that FedEx Ground service has attributed to protests and looting in parts of Chicago are raising some eyebrows.
In a statement, a FedEx spokesperson acknowledged that FedEx Ground deliveries were temporarily suspended “to some Chicagoland ZIP codes,” and that the decision “was based strictly on our commitment to ensure the safety of our team members and the security of our customers’ shipments.”
According to information that the company shared on June 11, FedEx Ground had suspended delivery in 10 Chicago ZIP codes — 60615, 60619, 60620, 60621, 60624, 60636, 60644, 60649, 60651 and 60653 — all located on the city’s South and West sides, and all predominantly Black. WBEZ also analyzed crime data from May 29 through June 2, when most of the civil unrest took place. The results raise questions about how the company determined which areas were safe for delivery, which ones were not, and why restrictions remained in place long after the height of unrest had subsided.
For instance, the 60653 ZIP code — which includes parts of some Bronzeville communities like Grand Boulevard, Kenwood and Oakland — was subject to delivery restrictions. That’s despite the fact that 60653 experienced fewer crimes — both in absolute numbers and as a per capita calculation — than 60611 and 60605, wealthier and predominantly white ZIP codes near downtown Chicago that include the Streeterville and South Loop neighborhoods, respectively. As of June 11, deliveries were not restricted to 60611 and 60605.
Similarly, the 60654 ZIP code, a predominantly white area that includes parts of the Near North Side and River North communities, experienced nearly the same number of crimes as 60615, a predominantly Black ZIP code on the South Side, but with roughly half the population. Service to 60615 was restricted, but service to 60654 was not restricted.
“How did they choose the neighborhoods they were not delivering it to? And why did it appear to be … in predominantly Black neighborhoods?” asked Folayemi Wilson, a Columbia College professor and resident of the historic Pullman neighborhood on the city’s far South Side. Wilson lives in the 60628 ZIP code, where FedEx Ground deliveries had temporarily been suspended, according to the company. By June 11, the company said service had been restored.
Wilson was expecting two packages — a dog bed and an indoor/outdoor rug — earlier this month. When they didn’t arrive on their estimated delivery dates, Wilson began checking online to get status updates. She said each day it indicated the packages would be delivered the next day, until one day it said they were being returned back to the shippers.
“And I was like, wait, wait, wait! You haven’t tried to deliver to me,” Wilson said.
When asked what criteria FedEx used to determine service suspensions, a company spokesperson wrote: “We closely monitor the frequency of recorded assaults, package and vehicle thefts, and other incidents involving our team members, and adjust our operations as necessary to ensure the safety of our team members and the security of our customers’ packages.” She did not address a question about why other FedEx services, such as FedEx Express, continued in certain areas while FedEx Ground was suspended.
We do a lot of business with @FedEx and our shipping address is in 60615. We received no notice about this disruption and I’m guessing none of their other customers did either. Multiple shipments bounced back with explanation. @UPS shipments have come through without issue. https://t.co/5FSw6lc10R— Chicago Film Society (@thefilmsociety) June 13, 2020
The interruption was particularly stressful for Kelly Pollock, who works at the University of Chicago and lives in Hyde Park and the 60615 ZIP code. Pollock found that the medication that she automatically receives by mail from Walgreens each month did not arrive.
“I set that up to have it mailed to me when [COVID-19] started so that I didn’t have to go to the drug store every time,” Pollock said. “I thought I had done everything right in getting it delivered to me, so I wouldn’t have to go out because of [COVID-19 and] I wasn’t going to be affected by the protests.”
Pollock learned the shipment had arrived in Chicago on June 1. But two days later, when she still hadn’t received it, Pollock called FedEx and learned that the shipment was sitting in a truck. By then, she had already gone two days without taking the daily medication and was experiencing withdrawal headaches.
“At that point, it was a few days past when the worst of the looting and things were going on, so I couldn’t even figure out why they wouldn’t be delivering at that point,” Pollock said. “We were still getting deliveries from UPS and the Postal Service, so it just seemed weird.”
This happened with a medication FedEx was supposed to deliver to me in Hyde Park. It made it to Chicago and then just sat on a truck for five days. They finally delivered it, but only after I called to complain that I'd had to go days without needed medication.— TwoBroadsTalkingPolitics Podcast (@TwoBroadsTalk) June 18, 2020
For Williams, there is no end in sight to her delivery limbo. FedEx still has not shared an expected date for her to receive the last four boxes of items to complete her new couch. She said her family laughs about it now, but beneath that, the issue is disturbing.
“You can see why this is incredibly frustrating and actually symbolically leads to exactly the moment that we’re in right now,” Williams said. “It’s terribly frustrating given the heightened mood that the entire country is in about injustices and inequities.”
Odette Yousef is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @oyousef.