CHICAGO (MCT) — Like other energetic, happy children, Derrick Robateau Jr. once played outside a lot with friends, but that changed in April after the 7-year-old was shot in the leg in front of his grandparents’ home on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
Now when he visits their residence in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, he stays inside more, “because they be shooting,” the soft-spoken boy said recently on his grandparents’ front porch.
Just last December, Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy singled out the Chicago Lawn Police District — whose borders include the Marquette Park and Gage Park neighborhoods in addition to Chicago Lawn — for praise for a dramatic drop in gun violence.
“Here’s an example where one district can make a difference in the citywide numbers,” he said at the time.
How much can change in a matter of months. This year, through mid-July, homicides have soared in the district by 156 percent over the year-earlier period while shootings jumped 39 percent, both well above the sizable increases seen across the city as a whole. through July 15, homicides totaled 23, up from nine a year earlier and 16 for the same period during 2010.
More troubling still, the Chicago Lawn District has seen more children wounded in the gun violence than any of the city’s 22 other police districts, according to a Tribune analysis. At least 17 youths — all 15 or younger — were shot in the district in the first six months of 2012, the review showed. Three of them died.
And the youngest shooting victim wasn’t even Derrick. A 4-year-old boy was grazed by a shot on March 25 as he sat in a car.
Last Monday, Corey Ingram became the latest young casualty. the 13-year-old was shot in his left thigh near 72nd Street and Artesian Avenue in Marquette Park as he headed home from playing basketball at a nearby church.
“I thought he was dead,” said Corey’s mother, Dennicia Lee, who moved to Marquette Park last year with her four children. “I don’t want him outside.”
The Police Department declined to make the commander of the Chicago Lawn District available for an interview, but Jens Ludwig, a University of Chicago law professor who specializes in crime studies, said crime rates tend to fluctuate every year for reasons that often are unclear.
Veteran police officers blamed much of the increased violence on conflicts within the Gangster Disciples street gang. By some estimates, the gang has splintered into as many as a few dozen cliques in the district, with monikers like “Rec City” and “the Hit Squad.”
“the interrelationships between and within the gangs in the neighborhood might be in flux this year, making members more volatile, uncontrolled and uncontrollable,” said Arthur Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago.
The district is the largest geographically and the most populous in the city. much of it is relatively safe, especially the area around Midway Airport as well as neighborhoods such as Garfield Ridge and West Lawn, where many city, county and state workers live. But the district’s east side — home to Marquette Park, Wrightwood, Gage Park and Chicago Lawn — is a different story.
Boarded-up brick buildings and abandoned properties with broken windows, kicked-in doors and shattered glass line many blocks of South Talman Avenue, South Maplewood Avenue and South Rockwell and West 62nd streets.
On the streets where so many of the shootings have occurred in the district, empty Ice House beer, Svedka vodka and Masson brandy bottles litter the front yards and sidewalks. Hypodermic needles and empty plastic drug bags are scattered on the ground along with potato chip bags, candy wrappers and crumpled debris.
Each time there is a murder or shooting, it sends chills through the community. and there is a flurry of phone calls and text messages exchanged to find out who got hurt this time.
Rafi Peterson, who worked for the anti-violence group CeaseFire until funding recently ran out, can look in almost any direction when he steps outside his Chicago Lawn home and point out the site of a shooting or murder.
“Some of the kids ain’t coming off their blocks because they don’t want to get hurt,” said Peterson, who has a murder rap in his past but has since counseled young people. “Some won’t even sit on their porch. the police ride through every day. Why aren’t the people safe? because the police can’t do it by themselves.”
All of their young lives, Cornelius and his friend Ravyn, both 15, have lived with the sound of gunshots as a backdrop. They walk past open-air drug markets and groups of young men hanging out on corners as they go to local businesses or visit each other.
“This is where we live,” said Ravyn, of Gage Park. “We can’t control it. It’s not like we can get up and move.”
So they have learned to cope, she said. They have learned to read the mood of the community to sense when there is tension that could lead to fighting or shooting. and they use their troubled neighborhood as motivation to achieve, Ravyn said.
“I’m going to make something of myself. That life ain’t for me,” she said. “It’s a lot of talent in our neighborhood. We got people who like to draw, sing and paint. But so much focus is on the bad stuff.”
The shootings have become so common this year, Cornelius said, that he and his mother have worked out a system. If gunshots ring out and he is away from his Chicago Lawn home, Cornelius rushes to the closest of several friends’ homes in the neighborhood, he said. then he’ll wait for his mother to call his cellphone. He is her only child. After they talk, he’ll wait another hour before heading out onto the streets to walk home.
“If it’s late, I’m not (going) to walk down certain streets,” he said. “I’ll go a different way. I know my neighborhood, I’m not worried about (neighbors). I’m worried about other people, people shooting from cars.”
Cornelius said he is not in a gang and doesn’t hang out with the factions. But because of the block he lives on, he can be identified with certain street crews.
“You live there, so people think you are with that gang. But you’re not. You just live there,” he said.
At a recent Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy meeting at the Chicago Lawn District police station on West 63rd Street, dozens of residents filed in to talk to police about crime in their neighborhoods.
Police officials handed out charts with crime statistics and told the residents that battery, theft and burglary were all down in their neighborhoods. there were fewer calls to the police in the last month and fewer cars stolen. Before the officer could finish reading the numbers, though, hands in the audience went up.
“How come homicides aren’t on here?” one woman in the audience asked.
“It’s like the statistics are more important than the crimes,” said another resident, Juan Carlos Tenorio, of Chicago Lawn.
“We are not all about numbers,” said Sgt. Allen Cain, but the residents audibly expressed their skepticism. “This is the only way I know to give an accurate reflection on how we’re solving crime,” he said.
“my concern is the killings,” said resident Andrea Hood, who then rattled off the names of a couple of recent homicide victims, including Davonte Flennoy, whose killing was featured last month in the Chicago Tribune because he had been pegged at 16 at an “ultrahigh” risk of being shot and was placed in an intensive Chicago Public Schools program. “can we get an update?”
As he shared a chair with a friend on his grandparents’ front porch, Derrick, the 7-year-old shot in April, recalled how he had tried to go up the front steps after he was wounded in the thigh but fell. the scars are visible on his right leg.
The boy underwent surgery to repair a damaged artery and spent a week at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, according to his mother, Dorothy Patrick, 23.
She remembered her son waking up in the middle of the night at the hospital, screaming for her.
No one was arrested in the shooting. Patrick said neighbors told her they know who pulled the trigger but are too fearful for their own safety to tell police.
“Every time I’m on this porch, I think about what happened to my son,” she said. “I be scared for myself too.”
(Chicago Tribune reporter Peter Nickeas contributed to this report.)