Kenwood community looks for answers in murder spike
Residents say violence 'rare' in neighborhood Obama calls homeAugust 02, 2011
By Serena Maria Daniels and Jeremy Gorner, Tribune reporters
Police Board member Ghian Foreman becomes emotional while talking about the apparent increase in killings in Chicago's Kenwood and Hyde Park neighborhoods. Foreman, who lives in the area, was speaking at a board meeting at Chicago Police Department headquarters on Thursday. (Chris Sweda, Tribune photo)Residents are up in arms about a spurt of violence in the Kenwood and Hyde Park communities, not far from where Secret Service agents keep President Barack Obama's stately residence tightly guarded with concrete barriers.
Nearly 150 people packed a recent Chicago Police Board meeting to hear a response to the violence, which includes four slayings in a little more than three months — all within about a mile of the president's home on a block of million-dollar brick mansions.
"I'm not going to let my daughters grow up and become immune to the sound of gunshots," Ghian Foreman, himself a Kenwood resident and a member of the Police Board, said at the meeting as his voice cracked with emotion and he fought back tears.
The Chicago Police Department's No. 2 official blamed the recent violence on warring between two "wannabe" gangs.
In the most recent slaying, Tony McCoy, the son of a popular Chicago Park District mentor who organized violence prevention activities in addition to basketball tournaments, was gunned down in broad daylight less than three weeks ago. Although police said they believe the recent violence was gang-related, McCoy's parents are adamant their son was not a gang member.
On that Saturday afternoon, McCoy's mother, Sandra Jefferson, had watched in horror for more than two hours as her son's lifeless body lay on a Kenwood driveway near his home that stifling summer day as police scoured the scene for evidence.
In an interview last week, Jefferson said she insisted on a curfew for her son even though he was 20 — 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and 12:30 a.m. on weekends.
"I used to text him if he wasn't here and tell him to come home," Jefferson said while sitting on a bench in Kenwood Park, where her son often played sports growing up. "I expected him to come in that door, and even though it was embarrassing for him, he would do it."
Usually few spectators attend meetings of the Police Board, whose responsibilities deal mostly with the discipline of officers. But dozens of residents from Kenwood and surrounding neighborhoods Hyde Park and Bronzeville saw it as a chance to talk to police brass about the violence, crowding into the meeting room at police headquarters last month.
Over the course of two hours, residents shouted questions at officials about the violence.
"Never before have we seen the tragedies that have occurred over the last few months," Ogi Eggleston, a lifelong resident of Hyde Park, said as he read from a letter before receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. "The rare sound of gunfire has become commonplace."
Eggleston read off the names of eight victims who have died since April from gun violence — one victim accidentally shot himself, while four of the slayings took place in Kenwood and Hyde Park, including one just a couple of blocks from Obama's Georgian-style home.
While the other three slayings occurred in areas where violence is more prevalent, they have reinforced area residents' perceptions that their quality of life is being threatened.
Until the recent wave in violence, the last slaying in Kenwood had been in December 2009, when a 79-year-old man was killed in a parking lot.
A combined three slayings took place in Kenwood and Hyde Park in both 2008 and 2009, and none occurred in 2010, according to a Tribune review of police statistics.
First Deputy Superintendent Al Wysinger, the department's No. 2 official, who attended the meeting, blamed the recent violence on a dispute between what he described as wannabe gangs — Young Money and 46 Terror Town.
"We're dealing with a bunch of youth that want to be gang members," said Wysinger, who vowed to keep a close eye on the progress of the investigations.
But many of the residents at the meeting seemed incredulous at police officials' answers to their questions. Some audibly scoffed at certain responses.
"He was dancing around some of the questions," Javin Foreman, a younger brother of the board member who also attended the meeting, said of one police official. "I want to see some sort of plan of action."
According to his parents, McCoy had been unable to find work and planned to move to Champaign with his girlfriend to attend Parkland Community College this fall. But he was cut down by gunfire near his home on the afternoon of July 16.
His father, Tony McCoy Sr., has worked for years for the Park District, mentoring hundreds of youths, coaching them in basketball and teaching them how to prevent violence.
At one event, the elder McCoy's nonprofit group sponsored a basketball game at which youths who had been victimized by gun violence talked about the importance of informing police if they witnessed crimes. Also last spring, he created a basketball league aimed at keeping sixth- through eighth-graders off the streets.
McCoy said his own approach in working with young people, including his son, wasn't to preach to them. Instead, he listened and tried his best to let them know their options in a nonjudgmental way.
The irony of his own son falling victim to street violence isn't lost on McCoy, a supervisor at Kenwood Park.
"It's hard to believe because this is my life, working with kids, trying to keep them off the streets," McCoy said. "This is a fraternity or club I do not want to belong to."
McCoy said he was confident his son had no gang ties but may have known gang members growing up.
McCoy said he usually has his "ear close to the ground," but he never heard anything about his son's personal life before his death that would have led him to believe he was in any serious trouble.
"I know my son wasn't an angel," McCoy said, "but … I never worried about him walking down the street."
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