When I arrived at 71st and the Dan Ryan Expressway, and started down Emmett Till road (AKA) 71st on the South Side of Chicago – then hit me that what have I just gotten myself into. I notice three police cars with their lights flashing have pulled over a mid – 1990’s Toyota Camry. Three young men – appearing to be in their teens – are lying across the trunk of two of the police cars as the officers are searching their pockets - more than likely for drugs or weapons. In some areas, this would be viewed as a sign that something really bad is happening but for the community of Englewood this type of incident is common.
For every house that I see - there is an abandoned or boarded up home right next to it. Vacant lots now occupy the spaces where homes and apartment buildings once stood. As I walk around one of those vacant lots – I notice broken liquor bottles, used condoms, and dead rodents.
Men and women of all ages are walking in an eastward direction. Their faces are drawn in while the sun reflects off of them - the walking pace is slow - their shoulders are slumped over. These people literally look like the walking dead, like they’re going somewhere but with no purpose. I was not scared but alert for anything and everyone. I started looking down each city block for something interesting. Then I see a park 1 block south of 71st and Aberdeen.
To my surprise – the park is beautiful and clean. I see five tennis courts surrounded by trees and park benches and a beautifully designed water fountain at the entrance of the park. Directly across the street are a row of more boarded up homes and broken liquor bottles on the sidewalks and street curbs. Two men who appeared to be in their teens were standing in front of the entrance to the park across the street from it. Drug dealers, they picked me up too as soon as I turned onto “their street”. The younger of the two sporting a white t-shirt and dark denim jeans had asked me what I was doing on “their street”. After I explained to him why I was there - he told me to leave. I did in a hurry.
I started driving further west on Emmett Till road going into the center of Englewood. Then I noticed two gentlemen their ages around early to mid - 60 standing in front of another abandoned home having a conversation. My intuition told me to stop and park my car to see if I could speak to one of them. I felt comfortable in that they would not tell me to get off “their street”. My gut was right.
Melvin James has been a resident of the Englewood community for 13 years. When I told him why I was there he was willing to offer his perspective on the happenings in Englewood. “First off it starts with not having an education. If you don’t have an education – there’s nothing left for you to do but get into some type of trouble. I also think that when the projects were shut down – a lot of those people moved into this community and they bought with them the gangs, drugs, and violence”. As we stand there talking – Melvin constantly looks around to see if someone is watching us. He goes on “The problem is that these kids are up all night shooting dice and selling drugs in the street. If you’re out here at night the trouble is going to find you. They don’t care that the police are around to them it’s a game. The drug dealers will stand right on these corners selling their drugs and they will see the police on the next corner. They have no fear of the police. It’s just a different generation of people now and they don’t have respect for themselves or for anyone else”. I don’t want to say much more because that is just the way things are in Englewood and I think I am going to end it right here”.
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