Tuesday, April 30, 2013

North Hyde Park Homicide - 52nd and Harper

A 39 year old man was shot and killed while in an apartment building in North Hyde Park. The shooting happened at approximately 12:15 AM in a red brick building in the 5200 block of S. Harper Avenue (it's further down the block than the Google van went; the SW Corner of Harper). According to police, the victim was in a hallway of the building with his friend when the gunman approached and opened fire. The friend tried to pull the victim into an apartment unit but was struck in the hand. The same bullet passed through is hand and into the victim's ribcage. The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times versions of the story have slight differences, but the underlying facts and conclusions are clear.

Stories like this invariably draw a lot of attention and press, even if they misrepresent our local crime. It made front page press on every major media website in the area, and I can't wait to hear the UChicago response. That all being said, Hyde Park is a very safe neighborhood. Our crime rate is consistently one of the lowest in the city, with an overall violent crime rate comparable to Lincoln Park. I always remind students, prospective students, and other Chicagoans that Hyde Park is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city, let alone on the South Side.

But how is the average UChicagoan or local Hyde Park resident supposed to reconcile the neighborhood's supposed safety with a homicide? Heck, the incident happened a block away from UChicago's snazzy Harper Court development; nothing says "welcome to Harper Theater!" like a homicide. With those worries in mind, here are some important considerations that everyone should remember when they are talking about this incident:
  1. The murder happened in an apartment
    Street homicides are far more problematic than indoor ones, at least from a public safety perspective. Hyde Park has an outrageous number of policemen on patrol at any given time, both CPD and UCPD units. If anything, their frequent presence probably forced the murderer to come after his target in the building precisely because the street was too well-monitored. So don't worry too much about walking around in that area.

  2. North Hyde Park actually DOES have a gang presence
    People always ask me about Hyde Park gangs. I tell them to check out University Theater (UT), the fraternities, and Humans vs. Zombies; these are the closest entities that UChicago has to a "gang". But to be perfectly serious, the area around the 53rd and Blackstone Boston Market actually does have a gang presence. I have confirmed with multiple sources (community members, police, stats, etc.) that the Black P. Stones operate a drug market around that area. You can identify one of the Almighty P. Stones by their red clothing, their penchant for wearing flip flops (no joke), and any hats facing the right side. Relative to other South Side neighborhoods, the 52nd/Blackstone area does not have a gang problem, persay. But it does have a gang presence. I would not be surprised if this homicide were related to the BPSN, although it is just as likely to be a dispute about "stupid shit". Whatever happened, the average UChicagoan doesn't need to worry too much.

  3. This is only Hyde Park's 6th homicide in 5 years
    The Chicago citywide per-capita murder rate is about 16 per 100,000 residents. That's a whole lot worse than New York City's (5 per 100,000), but a whole lot better than that of Detroit (55/100,000). Neighborhoods vary wildly in homicide rates, from the safe downtown area (0 homicides) to areas like West Englewood of WBEZ fame (54/100,000) or Grand Crossing (74/100,000). Hyde Park's annual homicide rate in 2012 was 4/100,000 with just one murder. We are on track for the same rate this year, and it is unlikely that more bodies will be dropping around our super rough neighborhood.
We shouldn't really be worried about the murder itself. What we should definitely be worried about is the UCPD's failure to alert us to the incident. I have been berating the UCPD on my blog for months now about their repeated failures at informing students about local crime, and this most recent incident is just another entry in that history of inadequacy.

Students were probably not at risk during the shooting. I also understand that the UCPD wants to avoid panic. I even am willing to concede that the UCPD has some responsibility to avoid bad press for the University, and anyone with a UChicago degree can appreciate that.

But after the shooting, the police did not catch the gunman. As the Tribune says, "Police said they were searching for the gunman and could not say why he opened fire." That meant that he was presumably on the streets looking to get out of the area, and we know that criminals don't do smart things period, let alone when they are trapped, cornered, and have just committed a serious offense. This rogue gunman could have jacked a car or at least broken into one. He could have tried to get into someone's house. He could have killed someone who saw him acting suspiciously. The murder itself might have been relatively "private", but the gunman's escape was a much more public affair.

Students live in that area. Students take public transportation around there, walk back from parties, park their car, etc. A desperate gunman trying to elude capture could definitely be a serious threat to anyone who he came across, and students should have been alerted. They would need to know to lock their doors, avoid strangers (moreso than usual), and generally be on the lookout for suspicious individuals.

The UCPD has a responsibility to inform us of these events. It continues to fail when it matters most. Yes, the UCPD has had successes (reporting on a few high profile robberies), but I think that a fleeing gunman is a bigger threat than a random mugging. Was he likely to hurt students? Probably not. Was he likely to commit more crimes? Again, probably not. But let the students know what is happening and let us use the information to be safe. Don't conceal information to prevent rumors and profiling; it happens anyway precisely because of the lack of transparency.

Whether or not the UCPD decides to inform us of future crimes, stay safe out there readers!

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