In Verse

A reporter, a photographer and a poet. This year, we’re sending them out together to reflect the emotional weight of Chicago’s gun violence.

Friday December 1, 2017

Apartments line the block where the shootings took place. It was in front of this apartment building, in the 3500 block of West Jackson Boulevard, where a 47-year-old man was shot twice on Saturday morning. Photography by Bill Healy

Weekend Calculus

The shootings both took place on Jackson Street, a busy thoroughfare for getting to and from downtown.

I arrive to three shooting scenes and things don’t add up.
At the first: a man was shot in his car in Bridgeport.
We search for information in the fall detritus.
In an old comfy diner a Black man and Latina
learn from the journalist last night’s news.
Near the flapping tape remainders of someone’s disaster,
in a bar half block beyond the Blue Lives Matter flag
a few White patrons are oblivious even when we tell them.
This is Chicago, there is always another scene.

The 2nd scene is across the street from the 3rd.
We talk to neighbors whose solutions involve a calculus
where the media is not a variable used to solve for why?
Witnesses say Black man in BMW is chased down Jackson Blvd.
He’s flying away from police like a bullet to the east.
Then from a car on the other side of the street
a bullet hits the BMW’s driver and before he dies he cries for help.
Witnesses say the officers do not follow the car that shot their intended victim.
The police say none of this happened the way the witnesses say.
This happened when children were about to walk home from school.
If it sounds crazy it’s because it is.
This is something unseen on this street in more than 10 years.

Scene 3 happened around a 6am,
while the street slept off the stupor
of the troubled afternoon.
Across from where the BMW came to rest,
a man no one we spoke to knew, was shot,
covered in a white sheet put in an ambulance and taken away.

These shootings are not functions of ghetto justice.
This is injustice in ‘hoods where neighbors
talk, gather, invest.
I studied civil engineering.
When a bridge fails, teams of engineers
investigate the variables.
Their goal is to solve the question of “why?”
Where are the teams of social engineers flooding the scenes?
Who is here solving for why?

Shootings Rattle East Garfield Park Residents

Evelyn Johnson, 72, stands next to her car, which was smashed by a vehicle during the fatal shooting on Friday afternoon.

Two shootings at the same intersection less than 16 hours apart have some East Garfield Park residents thinking about leaving Chicago.

The shootings near Central Park Avenue and Jackson Boulevard left a 42-year-old man dead and a 47-year-old man seriously wounded, authorities said. A police spokesman said the shootings are likely unrelated.

The first shooting happened about 2:30 p.m. Friday. Police said a 42-year-old man was driving east on Jackson Boulevard when a “silver or gold” car pulled up and someone inside opened fire. The 42-year-old man was shot multiple times and died at Mount Sinai hospital, authorities said. The Cook County medical examiner’s office had not released his name as of Sunday evening.

After being shot, the man lost control of the car and crashed less than a block away, said nearby resident Evelyn Johnson.

“I was getting ready to leave for work, and I forgot something, so I came back to my apartment and on my way down we heard shots -- like seven shots,” Johnson, said. “When that car shot him, he crashed into my car.”

Johnson, 72, believes her forgetfulness saved her: “I would have been shot. I would have been right that car, shot. That’s crazy!”

The next day, Johnson waited outside for a tow truck to come take her totaled SUV away. She said she needs the vehicle for work because she is a nurse who does home health care.

Johnson, who moved to Chicago with her two teenage grandsons about a year ago, said the violence has her considering another move.

“I want to get out. I was gonna move anyway. ... it’s just crazy. It’s not safe,” she said. “And you never know what’s gonna happen.”

The second shooting happened about 6 a.m. Saturday. A 47-year-old man was standing in the street when another man approached and started shooting. The 47-year-old was shot in the abdomen and the knee. He was taken to a local hospital in for treatment and was in serious condition on Sunday, police said.

Monique Robinson, 50, said she heard three gunshots, and then heard the man crying out for help, so she called 911.

Robinson, also a nurse, said she often has to leave for work early.

“I have to get up tomorrow at about five to go to work so, will they be doing this again?” Robinson asked rhetorically. “Should I be looking out my window? Should I? What should I be doing before I walk out the door, you know besides praying? But it’s scary -- it really is -- it’s scary.”

But Ayesha Barnes, 37, said she was undeterred by the shooting. Barnes was in the 3500 block of West Jackson Boulevard on Saturday to look at an apartment near the center of the weekend’s violence.

“It does not change the way I feel about (the area because) sometimes bad things happen in good places,” Barnes said.

Despite the violence, Barnes believes Garfield Park is just a few years from a resurgence.

But Johnson is skeptical.

Outside of Johnson’s apartment building is a perfect view of the Willis Tower to the east, and the golden dome of the Garfield Park Fieldhouse to the north. She said this should be a prime area, but that would take a shifting of priorities within city government.

“When we go downtown, when we go to the park it’s just gorgeous. When you drive around Lake Shore it’s gorgeous, but I don’t live there,” Johnson said. “Most of the West Side looks like a war zone. … There are no jobs. People are selling (drugs) because they’re hungry.”

Police tape in the alley off of Jackson Boulevard. Two shootings, one of them fatal, have residents of this block wondering if they need to be on high alert, or if they should move away.

Saturday August 12, 2017

Photography by Cecil McDonald Jr.
A child's four-wheeler sits near the curb near the site of a shooting on Saturday night.

All Talk

Police work at the scene of a shooting on Saturday night. A 37-year-old man was shot in the leg.

victim, a male black, 37, was involved in an argument

on an endless sidewalk where a child’s pink four wheel brightens shadow
of tumblers on canvas of west side sky biting air an unexpected

august as helicopter hums its blinking eye on 71st place.

this concrete outlines a-frames proud in their contrasting uniformity
quiet repose in the glare of a vigilant, almost open moon peeking

between branches, both with secrets to share. fragmented truths
caged in police tape. few others are talking, yet the street is loud

and the front porch at this house pleads over the cacophony
of saturday night. a man, a son, a brother was shot on this stoop

mlk’s determined face on the white front room wall, questions
the two distinct marks in the door & the spotty wood outside.

red & pink flowers puzzle the round table beneath him, as he
ponders if the 1966 march brought us the freedom to live

where we choose, and covers his ears to the immediate pain:
bigots in virginia, cops talking irish bars & a black mama wailing

like a siren. the victim’s sister is an angry parade
cops yell like she’s a stranger on her own block. she curses

them & worries the street about the whereabouts of brother
& the adolescent boy who sought refuge just after bullets spoke.

this is an active crime scene she is told & denied entry to mama’s
house. just an altercation they say. her tongue colors the neighbor’s siding.

alley deep across the street, a crew of young men turn up
their volumes with tales of shootings & defying death

in ear shot of cops busy with routine distance

Man Shot During Argument In West Englewood

A police officer in his vehicle at the scene of a shooting on West 71st Place.

A man was shot in the leg when an argument turned violent Saturday night in the West Englewood neighborhood, police said.

The 37-year-old got into a dispute with another man about 10:40 p.m. in the 1200 block of West 71st Street. The other man then pulled out a handgun, fired multiple shots and ran away, police said.

Someone drove the wounded man to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn before paramedics arrived, according to police.

Officers said it remained unclear if the shooting happened on the front porch or inside the two-story home where the 37-year-old lived.

Neighbors said two children also live at the house, and were inside when the shooting happened.

Outside the home, police turned away a woman who said she was the 37-year-old man’s sister. The woman, who did not give her name, then stood in the street and cried out in an attempt to find her nephew who she believed had been inside at the time of the shooting.

At least 58 people have been shot -- including 14 fatally -- in West Englewood this year. But one neighbor, who did not want to be named, said this block has avoided the gun violence.

However, there was a shooting a block north on July 7, and police have made two arrests for unlawful possession of a gun in 2017, according to the data.

Saturday’s shooting was the first on the 1200 block of West 71st Place since a killing in November of 2015.

Officer Hector Alfaro, a police spokesman, said detectives know the identity of the gunman in Saturday’s shooting. No arrests had been made as of Sunday morning, he said.

Police said the shooting was one of at least 17 throughout the city between Saturday night and Sunday morning, including an off-duty Chicago police sergeant who shot a man during an “armed confrontation” on the Far South Side.

There have now been more than 1,770 shootings in Chicago so far this year.

Saturday July 29, 2017

Photography by Tonika Johnson
Two teenage girls talk with police officers at the scene of a shooting in the 1600 block of West 57th Street on Saturday.

A Bitter Split Silence

Eugene Jones, who said he is a friend of the victim, shares a video of a playful race he ran with the victim just days earlier.

Gathered behind yellow tape,
police stand much taller than
children who typically bend limbs
to race one other, shoot hoops

in the vacant lot where girls run footballs
with boys. Tonight is not that routine.
Officers guard the cordoned street
and the neighboring lot—thick grass

—fresh and still growing. Two tried to
get children to talk. Their faint shudders
dodge questions that guaranteed no safety.

Tonight, a young man in a foot race
from days past failed to outpace the stone
burrowing into his arm, but he lives.

Miss Adams does not stutter. She points
out overgrown lots where houses stood.
No child is more special than another.
Her nephew Christopher Lattin, lost at

Stroger, same hospital where a lean sprinter
heals tonight. Again, the shooters go free,
yet these children waver. Quiet floods July
sky that got dark so quick, but not before

an ice cream truck’s sugary, tinkling song
starts, then stops, as the driver sees yellow
tape, turns at the corner. Kids running for
frozen joys, gone. No funerals are planned

tonight. No one memorializes childhood
or grass that bears witness. A bitter split
silence falls where houses used to breathe,
while police look for fallen casings.

‘The Streets Are Marked With The Children’s Blood’

Chicago police officers search the scene after local residents said five shots were fired into a crowd of teenagers in the 1600 block of West 57th Street on Saturday.

A 19-year-old man was shot in the arm while playing outside with a group of teens Saturday night in a part of Englewood where more than 80 people have been shot in the past five years, police and neighbors said.

The young man was in the 1600 block of West 57th Street when a car pulled up and someone inside opened fire shortly after 8 p.m., police said. The shooting was one of dozens throughout the city over the weekend.

Neighbors said the gunman fired five shots from a passing car as the victim played outside with a group of teens. They said children often play outside on the block, but one neighbor questioned if that is safe anymore.

“They were playing like they normally do all the time. … Next thing I know I’m walking around the corner, and I hear gunshots, and I turned right back around to make sure everybody is OK,” said neighbor Eugene Jones. “When I get here [the victim] is laying down in the grass and the [shooter’s] car had left.”

The victim was taken to Stroger Hospital in good condition, police said.

City data show that since 2012 there have been nine homicides and 74 non-fatal shootings in the police beat where the 57th Street took place -- an area that’s about 20 square blocks.

The most recent homicide was in February when 12-year-old Kanari Gentry-Bowers was shot in the head while playing on a school playground just three blocks from Saturday’s shooting.

The children outside after Saturday night’s shooting were visibly shaken: crying and upset.

Jones, 26, said “the whole block is full of kids.”

“That’s why it’s so important to me that whatever just occurred, some type of actions get taken,” Jone said. “Prosecute the people that did it or it’s just going to continue. That’s how violence continues -- when you don’t do anything about it.”

While Jones was talking, he pulled out his cell phone and showed a video recorded just days before of him in a foot race down the block with the victim.

Just around the corner, 53-year-old Veronica Adams sat on her porch with her sister. The two said they came outside after hearing the shots.

“The kids can’t play in the street no more, they can’t play on the street,” Adams said. “You can’t even sit on your porch. We are hardly ever outside.”

Adams said her 15-year-old nephew, Christopher Lattin Jr., was shot and killed in 2013 just a few blocks from Saturday night’s shooting.

“This don’t just happen here, it’s happening everywhere,” Adams said. “Murder is happening everywhere. Senseless killings [of] children. The streets are marked with the children’s blood.”

Officer Nicole Trainor, a police spokeswoman, said detectives are still investigating Saturday’s shooting and no arrests have been made. Police would not confirm a motive for the shooting.

Photography by Tonika Johnson
Eugene Jones said he knows the victim and all the youth on the block. He described them as good kids who regularly hang out on the block.

Friday July 21, 2017

Photography by Tonika Johnson
James Jeffries, 69, sweeps up the sidewalk in front of his home on the 7500 block of South Ridgeland Avenue. On Friday, the house next door was the site of a shooting that left a 23-year-old man in danger of losing sight in one eye.


Marqina Williams, 50, sits on her porch, four doors down from the shooting on Friday night. Williams has three children, but she said the shooting does not make her afraid because “this is not that kind of block.”

The elder man’s eyes tell a story
his mouth is reluctant to share,

but the trees that line his block go talking,
up and down the entire city:

not if they will see death
but when. Not if leaves will fall,

but how quickly.
It is true— last night, on this block,

a young man caught a bullet
behind his eye. He will live

but carry lead until some future light
when his soul is pulled skyward,

into the next song of life and death.
Yes, last night, bullets let loose

toward a stoop of young men, neighbors
froze behind windows, police

hung yellow tape and tripods held up
cameras hungry for death.

Yes, it happened here, last night.
But today, there is a tree that needs to be climbed.

There is a front lawn that needs to be cut.
There are dogs that need to be walked up and down

the sidewalk and that
is what’s breathing here now.

Today it’s back to work & play.
Some place else, there is a frame, a longing

for trends that turn the people against the people.
We’ve been trained into a narrative

of blood, which isn’t untrue but isn’t
complete. This is a block too alive for framework.

It is lined with brick homes who stand
prouder than lead, and children

who need no lessons in how to be
children, and elders who walk a line

between saying and not saying until their dreams
sing into fruition. This is a gathering

of the living and the working and the playing and the dying.
They are what move this city, every day,

beyond the framework that bends truth,
beneath the trees that don’t.

Man Shot In Head In South Shore

Magdalen Taylor, 39, stands on her front porch. She said she has known the victim since he was a baby, but recently she started telling her children to stay away from his house. Neighbors said the site of the shooting has become the “problem house” on an otherwise safe block.

A 23-year-old man could lose sight in one eye after he was shot in the face late Friday in the South Shore community, neighbors said.

Police said the man was standing on his front porch in the 7500 block of South Ridgeland Avenue when a gunman walked past and fired multiple shots about 11 p.m. One of the bullets struck the man in the head, according to police, who said the shooting was possibly “gang related.”

The victim’s younger brother, who didn’t want to be named, said Saturday that he had just gotten back from the hospital and his brother was doing well. He added that he didn’t feel safe talking on the front porch where his brother had recently been shot.

Longtime neighbors said they watched the victim and his brothers grow up -- and were not surprised by the shooting outside their brick bungalow. They said the home had turned into a “problem house” after family elders died or moved out. Now, neighbors said, the house frequently has noisy hangouts on the otherwise quiet block.

“I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t angry, I was more saddened than anything because I’ve known them since they were kids,” said 50-year-old neighbor Marqina Williams. “This is not that kinda block.”

Police data show this is the first shooting on the 7500 block of South Ridgeland since 2010.

Neighbor James Jeffries, 69, said he was home relaxing when he heard eight or nine shots. He said he later hung out on his porch and watched police search the area in the rain.

“I am so used to hearing shots [that] I did not react right away … I knew it was involved over here because they had been out all day drinking and smoking reefer and doing their thing,” Jeffries said.

Neighbors said the victim and his brothers are the third generation of their family to live in the house. The victim was on electronic monitoring while he awaited trial on a drug charge, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s office. WBEZ is not naming him because he is the victim of a crime in Friday’s shooting.

Magdalen Taylor, 39, said she watched the victim and his brothers grow up.

“It’s sad because I know these boys, but it’s like they chose to go that route,” Taylor said. “I have a 16-year-old, so I keep him away from them, even though he was raised in their house when he was younger. Actually the grandmother used to babysit my son.

“[Now] I am coming home everyday [and] we’re noticing more people just being there. OK, so [I told my kids] I need you to stay [away from there]. When you go to the park walk this way, don’t walk past that way.”

Taylor spoke on Saturday evening while her 10-year-old son giggled and climbed trees with a friend from the block.

“I love this neighborhood because it’s always been a quiet neighborhood, you know, you hear shooting but it’s never been on the block,” Taylor said. “So this is where, now, it’s coming closer to home.”

Two young boys play down the block from a shooting scene. “Even though I’m comfortable in this neighborhood stuff does happen and I just have to be aware with my children, when they’re playing out here. You know it’s summer I can’t keep em in the house,” said mother Magdalen Taylor.

Quraysh Ali Lansana is an author of 20 books in poetry, prose and children’s literature. He teaches in the writing department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is a former faculty member of the drama division of the Julliard School. Lansana is the last protégé of Gwendolyn Brooks. He's editing the poetry in this series.

Toni Asante Lightfoot is a poet, educator, and community activist dedicated to improving the physical, emotional, and financial health of her adopted community of Chicago and of her home Washington, D.C. She has edited several collections of poetry and currently works as an editor for More Black Press. Lightfoot has taught poetry for over 25 years in libraries, prisons, universities, and juvenile detention centers across the United States and in Trinidad and Tobago, where she also co-owned a bed & breakfast dedicated to housing artists and connecting them with Trinidadian artists and activists. She is studying acupuncture and herbal medicine at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago.

Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit and Arc & Hue. Betts is also one of the co-editors of The Beiging of America: Personal Narratives About Being Mixed Race in the 21st Century. Her work has appeared in POETRY, American Poetry Review, Essence, NYLON and numerous anthologies. She is a visiting lecturer in the English department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Paul Martinez-Pompa is the author of My Kill Adore Him. His work has been widely anthologized, most recently in Resist Much/Obey Little. He edits for Packingtown Review and teaches rhetoric, poetry and creative writing at Triton College.

Bill Healy is a freelance journalistin Chicago. His photos have been used by The New Yorker, Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. He produces StoryCorps for WBEZ and teaches journalism at Northwestern University.

Cecil McDonald Jr. is a photographer who explores the intersections of masculinity, familial relations, and the artistic and intellectual pursuits of black culture through photography, video, and text. McDonald studied fashion, house music and dance club culture before receiving a MFA in Photography at Columbia College Chicago, where he currently serves as an adjunct professor and a teaching artist at the Center for Community Arts Partnership at Columbia College Chicago. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, with works in the permanent collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art, Chicago Bank of America LaSalle Collection and the Harris Bank Collection. He was awarded the Joyce Foundation Midwest Voices & Visions Award, the Artadia Award, The Swiss Benevolent Society, Lucerne, Switzerland, Residency and the 3Arts Teaching Artist Award. Currently he is in the culmination phase of a ten-month residency at the University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator in Washington Park.

Tonika Johnson is a local photographer from the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. She received her BA in journalism & photojournalism from Columbia College Chicago in 2003 and her MBA from National-Louis University in 2005. In 2010, she helped co-found Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E), whose mission is to “mobilize people and resources to force a change in Englewood by identifying barriers, addressing them while promoting positivity through solution-based approaches."

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.

This story is part of WBEZ's Every Other Hour project.

Criminal justice reporting and investigative journalism at WBEZ is supported in part by Doris and Howard Conant, The Joyce Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.