Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein started her recent stop in Chicago with a press event in the city’s West Side Austin neighborhood. Her presence didn’t seem to make a big impression on local residents.
Jill Stein’s campaign described her visit to Austin as a “reality walk” through a neighborhood in turmoil. I followed along. Before setting out, she addressed a bunch of reporters and cameras.
“We got a crisis here,” Stein told the press. “A crisis on the streets on the West Side.”
Stein—and the cameras—walked slowly up a block of Quincy Avenue from Columbus Park, and stopped at the corner of Lotus Avenue, where 16 year-old Elijah Sims had been shot just days before.
The spot is marked with a purple cross, maybe two feet high.
“See this cross? This is why she’s out here,” said Stein’s state campaign coordinator, Zerlina Smith, who lives nearby.
Stein lingered for a couple of minutes, talking with a pair neighbors that Smith had recruited.
Then Stein turned the corner and walked up Lotus.
Smith called out to people hanging out on either side of the street.
“You have a presidential candidate walking down the block! She wants to hear what you have to say.”
No one approached. A young guy smiled and threw up what looked like a gang sign—in what seemed like a joke—and Stein’s group kept going.
A police SUV lingered, while I asked the kid a couple questions.
Sixteen-year-old Miranda Wright came over.
“What are they asking questions about?” Wright asked.
“That lady’s running for president,” I said, pointing down the block. “Her name’s Jill Stein.”
“OK,” said Wright. “I’m going to tell you what I think about her running for president. I think she should put those people”—she pointed to the police SUV—“in check right there.”
A few people stayed to continue the conversation. Presidential politics was a secondary topic.
Instead, talk kept returning to the fear of violence and frustration with police.
For harassing people on the street. For failing to come quickly when there was a shooting. And, when they did arrive, for treating neighbors on the scene with disrespect.
“Talking to us like we the criminals—like we done shot them,” Wright said. “We ain’t shot them. These are our people, we trying to check on them! Talking to us, like ‘Get the f--- back,’ and ‘Woo-woo-woo’. What kind of language is that for someone who just lost somebody?”
Wright was referring to a vivid memory. She said she had accidentally recorded the sounds of the gunshots that killed Elijah Sims.
“I have a live video on Facebook,” she said, “where I’m sitting, actually in the house, and I hear 20 shots—boom boom boom boom. And I’m just looking out the window like: Are those shots?”
She went out to see who was hurt, and found it was Sims, a friendly acquaintance.
She had been closer to another young man who was recently killed a couple blocks away.
“Now, that was a friend,” Wright said. “Like, I hung with him, every day, on a daily basis. So it’s hard, you know-- seeing him to go away like—something like that. He ain’t gonna be here no more.
“But it’s like—you deal with it, you learn to deal with stuff like that,” she said. “Because it happens every day in this neighborhood-- you just got to get used to it. You can’t even mourn or cry. Because it happens, around here. You know?”
“Amen,” said her friend, Sheniqua Thomas. “I would have given you offering, if we’d been in church.”
I told Wright it sounded like a tough week.
It wasn’t fun, she said, but she had learned to see every day of life as something to value. Not something she could take for granted.
“I wake up every day, go to sleep every night, just hoping I wake up the next morning,” she said. “And if I wake up, then, it’s a good day—even if it’s going to a bad day later on. It’s a good day when I wake up. Cause I’m woke. I'm here to see another day.”
I thanked her, and walked up Lotus, toward the spot where Jill Stein had planned to end her reality walk, with a press conference. Stein and the cameras were still there when I arrived.
Dan Weissmann is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him @danweissmann.