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The calls kept coming: loitering in front of a store, a man on an electrical pole trying to connect a wire to an unoccupied home nearby, more narcotics sales at corners that were empty when we arrived, and, late in the afternoon, suspected "gangbangers" fighting in the street at Ohio and Avers.
We sped over to find the intersection empty. Not a minute later another squad car pulled up. The cop behind the wheel thumbed toward the east. "There's a shitload of them over on Ridgeway," he said. "Let's go push them all out and move them to the next corner."
We did a U-turn and two blocks over found at least 50 people—from small children to middle-aged adults—shouting and milling in the street, apparently in anticipation of another round of the fight. But even before the officers jumped out of the car, the crowd began to disperse, some more grudgingly than others.
"Leave us alone—we ain't doing shit!" hollered a woman of about 20 in a pink sweatsuit.
"Doesn't matter," said Martinez. "Move along."
Across the intersection, a chiming ice cream truck had pulled over in search of customers.
Jimmy Simmons wasn't notified about Emanuel's press conference, and he's irked about it.
Simmons is a heavyset fiftysomething. He has a neatly trimmed goatee, wears dark-rimmed glasses and loose print shirts, and is generally so unflappable and slow-moving that it's easy to miss his intensity.
Simmons owns a construction firm and a health food business, and for 15 years he's served as a community policing facilitator in beat 1112, where the press conference was held. He says he wasn't there because no one told him about it beforehand. To Simmons, that shows how little the mayor and police chief know about the communities they're challenging to step up.
"If this thing is going to work, they've got to work with us," Simmons says. "But the mayor doesn't know who we are."
In the late 1980s Simmons and other neighborhood leaders founded the West Humboldt Park Family and Community Development Council to spur economic development. The nonprofit teamed with a developer to open a shopping center at Chicago and Kedzie, and for a time convinced the police department to put an officer on foot patrol up and down Chicago Avenue. Simmons remains a board member of the council and several other neighborhood organizations.
But in the 1990s the drug dealers started showing up, and they've been there ever since.
When they first appeared outside Simmons's home, on the 1000 block of North Harding, they set up on both sides of the street so they could be more efficient at catching all the traffic off nearby Pulaski. They didn't live on the block—they just showed up there to sell. "It was atrocious," Simmons says. "They would urinate on the trees and throw their garbage right on the ground."
Finally Simmons and a couple of neighbors told the guys they had to go. "The dudes, they kind of stood there, and then finally the captain came by to drop something off and he saw us out there, and one of the lieutenants said something to the guy. He looked at us, and then they left—without any incident."
But within a month another group set up shop in the alley behind Simmons's house. They were more creative about their sales techniques. "They'd set up a basketball hoop in the alley or the street to make people think they were playing ball," he says.