Little Village Girl, 6, Shot to Death on Front Porch

Little Village Girl, 6, Shot to Death on Front Porch

The Saturday afternoon shooting of a six-year-old little girl on the Southwest Side is tragic.  Ridiculous.  Enraging.  My son is six.

When I lived in Little Village, I remember hearing gun shots from my bedroom window late Friday and Saturday nights.  I called the cops.  I went to CAPS meetings.  I doubt it made a difference.  Despite the dedication of many police officers and the difficult challenges they face, I know inequalities in police patrols exist.

In February, according to Naperville's TribLocal, "Police received a tip that a boy about 7 to 10 years old was seen heading toward the woods with a man who was holding him by the arm at Country Lakes Park, in the 700 block of Genesee Drive. Officers then found a Mongoose bike in the park."

I heard about this on the news.  A massive search ensued.

Two days later, police suspended the investigation because their investigation found no evidence of illegal activity.

In an affluent community, suspicious behavior gains police investigation and massive media coverage.  In low-income neighborhoods, is suspicious behavior expected and, therefore, ignored until an innocent child dies?

I thought I would live around 26th Street until I died.  But when the gangs and gunshots got too close, I made the difficult decision to leave.

A vile bunch lives on the Southwest Side.  Latin Kings and Latin Queens, the Two Six--male and female--float around looking for a place to perch, destroy, then disappear.  These guys and girls presume themselves on street corners when it gets dark, clutching bottles, and passing cigarettes from hand to hand.

"Don't you know the Lawndales only smoke blunts, muthafucka?" says a young punk to another puffing a cigar as I walk by the Little Village Academy playground. Pride is in their posture, but fear is in their glance.

It's 7 p.m.  It's getting dark.  The sun sets and more gangbangers scurry out like rodents.  Black hoodies keep their bodies warm, their faces hidden.  With nothing else to do, they are inseparable.  They shout and sometimes shoot to get attention.  Their booming cars roll by, thumping and sparking silver from polished chrome.  These rowdy guys and girls wake the working class at night and make the sirens swirl and swirl like the chaos in their heads.

But my social consciousness should make me understand.  Chicago, like most big cities, boasts inequality.  Immigration isolates a population.  Color traps someone.  Color sets another free.  But I can't justify the gangs.

In April of 2002, just when the weather was starting to get nice, close to midnight on a Friday, a car crashed into a day-labor office on 27th and Lawndale.  My wife and I were coming home when we turned the street and saw the fire with flames slapping the sky like giant flags.  The crumpled Cadillac crackled as it roasted; the smoke dropped it scent on everyone who stared in fright.

Gangbangers surrounded it.  The driver, a 22-year-old Latin King, stood shoeless with bandages wrapped around his head.  A woman walked up, grabbed his powerless arm, and pleaded in Spanish, "Cuídense, mijo," "Take care of yourselves."  He almost nodded in response. His eyes moved left and right; he wanted to hold someone's hand.

The Cadillac's front passenger lied shirtless on the sidewalk, his stomach rose and fell under the paramedic's hands.  In the streetlight, his face looked black with all the blood that spilled from his temple.  His mother, recently arrived from working second shift, screamed into the sky.  In her wrinkled work shoes, she spun and yelled without control--her insides must have trembled.  She made fists from her frustration, went to hit a car window, then stopped and seemed to think that it might break.  In panicked movements, she moved closer to the driver with the bandage on his head.  He barely moved to mumble, "I'm sorry, Señora."

The passenger's father in his dusty baseball cap and old mechanic's pants stared silently at his son bleeding on the cracked concrete.  There was nothing he could do.

According to the neighbors, before the crash there were three gunshots, frightening as door slams, a couple blocks away.  Then silence.  Then two collisions.  The old Caddy was rammed by a van, neighbors said.  The driver lost control, then crashed into the building.  Three of the passengers got out by themselves.  The front-seat passenger was unconscious as the car began to burn.

"You have to get him out," a neighbor shouted in Spanish at the guys.  "He'll burn!"  The teens pulled out the sagging body through the window and laid him on the sidewalk.  Nothing but the Caddy's frame was left when the fire was extinguished.

According to the detectives, however, there was only one collision--the Cadillac with the building.  "Usually when you get hit, crap falls off the bottom of your car or your lights break or somethin'", the skeptical detective told a tiny crowd. "There's no evidence of any impact on the street."

The neighbors shouted, "No, there were . . .

"We heard . . ."

"Pero eso fue . . ."

"Before we saw . . ."

Some of them said they called 9-1-1 when they heard the shots.  To the detective, those weren't facts.

When he asked the driver what happened, the driver stared blankly and said he lost control.  Gangbangers never tell the cops about their rivalries; it's their own unspoken code.

Four months later, I left 26th Street after living there twenty-nine years.  That last day, I looked at the bundles of books and boxes waiting to be carried away like sleeping children.  I threw away old curtains wrinkled as tissue and stared at the overload of memories in a garbage can belonging to the city.  The gangbangers won, I thought.  I’m the one who has to leave.

But now I know I can still work to address the problems plaguing the Southwest Side.  I convinced myself that I don’t have to live in Little Village to contribute to it. I can’t pay rent there anymore or chase away the gangsters smoking weed.  But I can write about those blocks with broken sidewalks in a potent metaphor . . . or in a simile bolder than any gang graffiti.

I know this is no comfort to the families who lose a child to gang violence.  Perhaps, however, if we demand preventative policing and make more phone calls and challenge the city to protect the innocent in Little Village and other struggling communities, we won't see this tragic image:

When a child dies,

the father doesn’t cry.

His hands prepare to catch his wife

if she collapses like a curtain.

Then he ambles to a spot.

Sits.  Nods.

Implodes.

The mother shrieks.

She swoops to hug a heartbeat

but barely finds her own.

Her hands reach into the sky

to seize the clouds

and shake her child’s soul

from heaven.

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  • fb_avatar

    Ray,

    Thank you so much for your words. They were so powerful. The child that died was a current student of a dear friend of mine who works at Gary in Little Village. She posted this about her earlier today,
    "With a heavy heart my condolences goes out to the family and friends of this intelligent, beautiful, outgoing little girl. Aliyah you know u had a special place in my heart for being so eloquent and cheerful inspite of circumstances. God has u with him and u will suffer no more by the hands of NO ONE!!! RIP little one. Sending out to u those long tight hugs u would always give me before u left my classroom. :'-("

  • Thank you for posting, Toni. I can't imagine the pain that everyone who knew this little girl is going through. It's incredibly sad.

    The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier today that two were charged with the murder. One guy is 18. The other is 16. It's so unfair.

  • Ray,
    I think you really hit the nail on the head with this one. I live on the southwest side, and I struggle with the internal conflict of stay or go. As someone who was born and raised on the south side, you don't want to "sell-out" and move out of the area. As a teacher, I don't want to be diosconnected from the community my students live in. As an ethical consumer, I don't want to move to an area in Chicago that has been heavily gentrified. All of these things come into mind, but the bottom line is...with gangs today....I, just like you and many others, feel like I can't and won't win. Eventually, I will have to leave, and it breaks my heart.

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    Great write up to a tragic story Ray-
    I still recall you trying to make a difference when you and your wife graduated from college. The events that led to you leaving the area along with your parents soon after and our family following suit. I think once we left your brothers and I dealt with the issue of really leaving the area as we found ourselves there almost every weekend. I look back at those years and wonder how we still made it out even after returning there every weekend to party and make it home without a scratch. These days I find myself avoiding the area as much as possible. I had spent the last 4 years getting a hair cut every Sunday morning in order to avoid the 3rd shifters and 2nd shift gang members that are still making their way home.
    I came to the realization long ago that you can't save the world and you can't look for every soul to save. There are those kids amongts that neighborhood that will seek out a vessel to get them out of those rough streets as we did Ray. Even with the voleenter work I do for the Navy I still find it difficult to watch other kids progress and not see any from our old neighborhood, but I like you must look at those already in front of me and push them forward.

    I leave you with a quote from Mother Teresa-
    *If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.

  • Hey Ray! Nice post. As we all know. This violence going around starts at home. Because there is not a mom or a dad at home to take care of them. Or they don't pay attention to them. If parents would just pay a little more attention to them this wouldn't happen. Now what angers me the most. I understand that the gangbangers are sons or daughters of someone. But what angers me is this.. When one these incidents happn. The parents turn the other way and see my little Paco or whatever is not a gangbanger. But if they show the pic on the tv. You can spot him. Will this ever stop? I don't know. I hope it does. But as we know one dies or gets locked up and there are more that will follow. It's sad really.

  • In reply to Aarreola1003:

    It's tough, Alberto. As a teacher, I've talked to many parents who do everything they can to keep their kids out of trouble. But the gangs and temptations are bigger, stronger than they are. Sometimes it is the parents' fault; sometimes it's not.

  • It's a never-ending problem, because there is political and financial gain to be made from the entire mess. Everybody talks, but in the end it is the same.

    I live south. Have all my life. I've seen neighborhoods roll over to gangs and crime in the space of a few years.

    I've seen politicians all the way up to the President of the United States inflame bad situations for political gain. I've seen people cower in their homes because they are afraid of leaving them, either to be assaulted or caught in the cross-fire.

    I am not shy to say that the only solution for some of the animals preying on neighbors is to eliminate them. Yeah, they are somebody's kid, but kids can kill, and they do. Without a thought, mostly.

    No amount of police presence will deter this. Not to mention that the police never receive the support from their bosses, all the way up to the mayors.

    You were smart to get out, to protect yourself and your family. No shame in that. You are outgunned and out-decided by politicians who do not care.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Thanks for posting, Richard. Lots of people think what you say here. It would be better if all the gangbangers disappeared.

    Policing inequalities exist. The Naperville example is one example. And this crime is not getting the national coverage that the Florida shooting of the young teen is getting. The race discussion is limited to black and white. The Florida shooting deserves national attention. So does the Little Village shooting.

    Crimes in Lincoln Park or the Gold Coast get lots of coverage, too. It is about power. And Little Village lacks this, unfortunately--despite the fact that the mayor recently recognized 26th Street contributes almost as much tax revenue as Michigan Avenue.

  • I heard on the news today that there's a march for the Treyvon Martin. That's an important issue but we--as Chicagoans--are missing the opportunity to address the violence here. Where's the march for the six-year-old girl?

  • In reply to Ray Salazar:

    Exactly, Ray. Where is Bobby Rush on the floor of the House with a pink ribbon in his hair, now that hoodies have fallen out fashion with the recent killing on 79th Street.

    Yeah, it is and always has been about power. That's the way of the world. I see it here all the time. South does not exist for the media or for people who live on the other side of Chicago's Mason-Dixon Line, Madison Avenue.

    It is so easy to see that Treyvon Martin's death is being exploited for political reasons. I find the New Black Panters "bounty" so much like their other racist brothers in hoodies, the KKK, that it is frightening. That and celebrity Tweeters posting addresses to alleged perp's. houses.

    Where is the call from civility from President Obama, who inserts himself in every local issue that has political meat? Nowhere. That only shows to millions that he is a Divider of the first order and that he loves chaos, especially if it has a racial slant and he can garner votes.

    Disgusting. The whole thing.

  • In reply to Ray Salazar:

    Shame.

    Even in death one can still be classified as "second-class".

    As a black male, I'm angry over why so much outrage over the murder of a kid (Trayvon) exists only because people view or consider the crime to be of prejudice circumstance. My thoughts: isn't it sadder when kids decide to kill mirror-images of themselves everyday at a much, much higher rate??? When you partake in destroying your own community, well, that to me speaks to an even bigger issue altogether.

    Sad.

    Hypocrisy will only continue to paralyze this country.

    Every news outlet in America should cover the slaying of an innocent child regardless of the reputation of their respective neiborhoods!

    #RIPLittleMissAliyah

  • Powerful post Ray. Keep up the good work.

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