Racial Tensions Put Southwest Side Neighborhood In Spotlight Again

Mount Greenwood Elementary
Mount Greenwood Elementary School at 10841 S. Homan Ave. in Chicago. WBEZ
Mount Greenwood Elementary
Mount Greenwood Elementary School at 10841 S. Homan Ave. in Chicago. WBEZ

Racial Tensions Put Southwest Side Neighborhood In Spotlight Again

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In a Southwest Side neighborhood with a history of racial tensions, residents are reacting to heated confrontations that erupted after police allegedly shot and killed a black man over the weekend. 

Twenty-five year old Joshua Beal was fatally shot after his family got into a fight with an off-duty Chicago firefighter in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood about 3 p.m. Saturday, authorities said.

The shooting prompted two days of contentious protests between those gathered to support the Beal family and counter-demonstrators who supported police officers.

On Monday, Mount Greenwood Elementary School Principal Catherine Reidy sent an email to parents that said she was going to escort students straight inside when they arrived in the morning. The email also said students would not go outside for recess.

Volunteer crossing guard Julie Yaverski said more parents than usual walked their children to school Monday morning. Parents could be seen taking older children right up to the door.

Chicago Public Schools issued a statement saying schools in Mount Greenwood took precautions, but principals reported a “calm climate” throughout the day.

Mount Greenwood has a history of racism, and a 1992 New York Times story on the neighborhood called its segregation “the tallest fence.” 

Mount Greenwood has the second highest percentage of white residents in Chicago, and its namesake school is 84 percent white in a school district that has less than 10 percent white students.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Mount Greenwood is one of Chicago’s safest neighborhoods. Residents credit the lack of killings to the high concentration of police officers living in the community. 

Some African Americans who live nearby said they avoid the area. 

“Being African American, I have had no reason to go into Mount Greenwood,” said Masajji Patrick, a father of six, who lives less than a mile from the neighborhood. “To me, Mount Greenwood has not opened itself up to African Americans living there, even visiting there.”

Patrick was involved in a push against a plan to merge two majority black schools in order to give Mount Greenwood Elementary School more space. That plan, which has since been withdrawn by the area’s alderman, was criticized as being racially motivated. 

After Beal was killed, the reaction from activists was swift. Videos posted on Facebook show angry exchanges, including people chanting “go home” and one man who repeatedly said “I love dead criminals.”

Parents at Mount Greenwood Elementary said they heard some black activists had threatened on social media to return Monday and go after children. Small groups of men stood on the corners in front of the school. The men said they did not want to talk to reporters and claimed the media were contributing to the problem. 

But other parents talked about why they love Mount Greenwood. 

“We are proud of our neighborhood,” said Yaverski as she escorted children across the street. “We protect each other. We have each other’s backs. We look out for one another. That is just the way we are.”

Yaverski said that Mount Greenwood feels like a small town.

Another mother, who did not want to be identified, said that the people in the community have been welcoming to her Mexican American family.

She said she feels bad about the way Mount Greenwood is portrayed. 

“I just want everyone to know that not everyone feels as racial as the people on TV,” she said. “It was very racial.”

That woman, as well as Yaverski, is married to a police officer.

Sarah Karp is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @SSKedreporter.