On edge in the precincts | Bleader

Friday, September 25, 2009

On edge in the precincts

Posted By on 09.25.09 at 03:50 PM

About two weeks ago an off-duty cop shot and killed a 17-year-old near 69th and King. As is often the case in police-involved shootings, the officer said the teen had a gun; witnesses and the youth's family said he was unarmed.

The Independent Police Review Authority is investigating, as it does all police shootings. But the incident wasn't the only recent outbreak of violence in that area: in the last month, police have received reports of 27 batteries, 8 robberies, and4 weapons violations.

Last night, when I went down to the area for its monthly community policing meeting, lots of people around there seemed to be on edge.

Ten residents showed up for the CAPS meeting in the basement hall of a church near 71st and King, but by the scheduled start time of 7PM no police officers had arrived. The residents said usually at least Officer Hutchinson, the community liaison, was early.

"I bet something's up," said a senior woman gripping her walker as she sat in one of the folding chairs. "Officer Hutchinson is usually early."

"I bet you're right," said a tall woman with big curly hair sitting across the circle. "I saw a squad car heading down Calumet. I thought it smelled funny out there. I thought it smelled like gunpowder."

In walked Officer Hutchinson, a smiling, small-built man who looked like he could get lost in his oversize shirt and slacks. "Sorry, everybody—we had a roll call, and it's so busy out there we couldn't even get through it without people being called out to work. I don't think our usual beat officers are going to be able to make it here tonight."

Down the stairs after him came a heavy-set officer in uniform, nearly busting out of his bulletproof vest. Residents asked the men what exactly was going on. "It's all sorts of stuff," said the uniformed cop. "It started with a bunch of things breaking out right when school got out. Then we had some people guns, drugs, all sorts of stuff." He excused himself to get back on the street.

During the meeting residents told Officer Hutchinson that things are a little calmer than they were last month at several problem spots, but the tall woman said there's been a lot of trouble near where she lives at 70th and Wabash. "There's a lot of drugs and loitering, and every night when I get home, like around nine, they start shooting."

Others talked of burglaries, graffiti, people squatting and selling drugs in abandoned homes. Officer Hutchinson took notes and asked everyone to be vigilant. He said the police had made a series of drug and weapons arrests. "It's the end of summer," he said. "I guess they're all out there trying to get it in before it gets cold."

Afterward I waited at a bus stop a few blocks west on 71st next to a woman in thick glasses taking long, deep drags off her cigarette. She looked up the block and said the bus was on its way, but it was apparently headed to the garage and blew on by. Across the street several men were hanging out in front of a rundown apartment building. A series of people walked up, shouting greetings; sometimes they stopped to chat, and sometimes one of the guys put his thumb and finger into his mouth and let out a short whistle, which prompted another guy to emerge from around the corner of the building and huddle closely with them for a few moments before disappearing again.

On the 69th Street Red Line platform two plainclothes cops approached a stout man wearing a long jean jacket and asked him what was in his back pocket. The man looked incredulous. "You think I'm carrying a gun?" he said, but raised his hands as requested. One of the officers patted him down, then reached into his pocket and pulled out the item in question: a rolled-up paperback edition of the New Testament. The cop handed it back, patted the guy on the shoulder, and moved on.

"I'd have to be certifiable to carry a gun out here with all these people!" the man said. "But I was nice. I did what I'm supposed to do—I was calm and polite and didn't get excited about it, because you never know what they might do."

He said police had harassed him before. "And let me tell you, if you ever need a lawyer, the best ones are the Jews—no offense."

I told him I wasn't offended, but I also wasn't Jewish. He didn't seem to hear me.

"Yeah, the Jews and the Italians are the best, because they know how to take care of your money."

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