The Real Issue Is Why So Many Of Us Left The Southside of Chicago

The Real Issue Is Why So Many Of Us Left The Southside of Chicago

You’ve seen the protests, you’ve read stories of the daily violence and the well-publicized incidents with the police.

But as one community activist put it, what has happened with the latest police killing “Isn’t a situation but a condition.”
This I agree with but it goes even deeper than that.

Many and I mean a lot of middle class minority families and individuals have moved out of the city recently. I’ll concentrate on the Southside because that’s where I’m from.

In our former enclave of West Pullman on 123rd Street things got noticeably worse in the late 1990’s when the area was flooded with the former residents of Chicago Public Housing.

These people were not given clear direction or even a plan of how to move forward. We noticed fewer houses that were kept up, more people just out on the streets (usually hooded on bikes or walking around), more break-ins (we had some garage burglaries but now it was up), and going up to Halsted Street wasn’t safe anymore.

Already starting in the early 1990’s some families were moving out to south suburbs like Homewood, Country Club Hills and Orland Park.
And we couldn’t blame them, out there were better schools, more resources, nicer houses and better, closer stores.

With the new millennium things really went down and I can remember feeling like no one at city hall, Springfield or Washington DC cared about us.
I wrote letters (or emails), at the time to every politician who represented us telling them how things were going down. I remember getting a generic emailed response from Senator Dick Durbin (probably written by an intern), but that was it.

By the mid 2000’s, it was really bad, I was home one Sunday afternoon and a shooting took place in broad daylight on the sidewalk adjacent to our house.

There was an open air drug market a block away and often small drug deals went down all over the area. You’d see two dudes walk towards each other, exchange money and “product”. They’d look around (and you better not make eye contact), then keep going. Or a car would pull up (often on the side of our place), and right there a cat would come up and through the window make the “transaction”. There were always small plastic empty “nickel” & “dime” baggies in our yard.

The police presence was a squad car passing here or there and bad dudes would scatter (and return a short time later), but that was it. You heard gun shots in the distance (and sometimes rather close), at night but no sirens. There was a bright police camera on Halsted which we could see but it did nothing to deter crime.

Not long after this, I got engaged and bought a place in Will County, within another year or so, my mother was surrounded by abandoned houses and had her windows broken one Christmas Eve. She also had one air conditioner unit stripped apart and another whole two ton unit stolen right out of the backyard.

The alderwoman (Carrie Austin, 34th Ward), had brighter streetlights put up after years of dim lights but still it was not a good area.

My godmother was living further north in Morgan Park (109th Street), and it was worse over there, she also had windows broken at one point and she put her place on the market where it was a tough sell.

This spring my godmother actually donated her place to a church (she couldn’t sell it for a reasonable price), and moved to Alsip in suburban Cook County.

This summer my mother sold her place and joined us out in Will County, she mentions the difference in the area is startling.

If you want to know how to fix issues in Chicago, firing all of the people in charge is a start because its accountability but this is a culture issue that goes back decades.

You can’t have such a disjointed city and think that it will work.

This is about neighborhoods that went bad and no one did anything outside of people moving out. Public schools are ineffective because teachers don’t have what they need and all that was done was close some schools and push the issues to other schools and some kids had to cross gang lines.

In my old ‘hood, all of the factories and good jobs left decades ago and have only been replaced with minimum wage fast food and low end retail. Trust me I know, for a short time while I was at DePaul University I worked on 116th & Halsted at Radio Shack.

People have to travel out of the area to work, shop and get what they need and they don’t feel safe. Only a couple families remain from the strong presence we had in the area just 10-15 years ago.

Lastly because areas got worse, police have to deal with some volatile street situations and then you get incidents that we hear about (and see), and it’s a mess.

I honestly miss my old Southside but there was no way I can have my family in my old area, for one both parochial schools I attended are no longer operating like they were then. One closed, the other merged and changed names. The parks aren’t safe and gangs rule the area.

What is needed is making sure all lives matter and this is a city that works for everyone on all sides of the city.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email

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