Category: Features

The Anatomy of a Murder in Broad Daylight

Corcoran .jpg

Bystanders gather near the scene of a murder on Central in Austin on April 7. One man was killed and several bystanders wounded when the occupants of a gray or white vehicle drove by Corcoran Grocery and began shooting in the middle of the day. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Wednesday, April 12, 2017|| By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

B.J. McKinney Jr., 24, of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, was pronounced dead at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood last Friday afternoon. He was one of countless shooting victims from around the Chicago area that the hospital takes in each year.

We often read about how victims were in good, stable, serious or critical condition at Loyola; or how, in too many cases, they were pronounced dead there. Rarely do we read the circumstances leading up to their presence at the hospital, one of Maywood’s largest employers. 

Until now. 

This is the story of how McKinney died in the middle of the afternoon and how a community responded the next day. To listen to the audio of the moment the shots were fired, click here

At around 1:25 p.m. on April 7, inside of Corcoran Grocery, on the corner of Central Avenue and West Corcoran Place, a native West Sider was asked about his experience growing up in Austin.

“I’ve been here all of my life,” he said. “I grew up here.”

Was he proud of being from the West Side?

“Yeah. I’ve made it here all my life,” he said. “This is all I know. I moved away and wound up coming back. Back to my roots.”

As this conversation was happening, a young, African-American man who appeared to be in his 20s came inside of the store, shopped for a few minutes and left out, music from portable speakers blaring in his wake.

How has the neighborhood changed over time?

“It’s changed a lot,” the older man said. “Different things done changed. I was here before cell phones and computers and cameras and all that stuff. Social media changed the whole area.”

The man didn’t appear entirely comfortable with this random moment of introspection. He had been thrown off by the request for an interview, which started with President Trump, about whom, the man said, he didn’t have an opinion.

So he was asked to talk about life on the West Side. Although uncomfortable, he labored for a language to articulate his home and what it means to be born and to live in Austin.

To live through it.

He wanted to have the words and seemed to be fighting to lift his thoughts above the gravity of the mundane — an elderly black woman sitting by a window, near an ice cream freezer, waiting for someone to ask her to scoop out a serving; the infectious bump of the rapper and producer Future decibels away, just outside of Corcoran’s concrete walls.

What made him return home after having left so many years ago?

Before the Austin native could answer, a barrage of bullets assaulted the senses. At least a dozen rounds were fired in quick, random succession like kernels popping.

Within microseconds, bodies inside of the store were crouched, shaking, prostrate, standing paralytic. Several seconds later, the piercing sound stopped and, after a moment of silence, someone near the store’s entrance asked, “Am I shot?”

“If you was shot, you wouldn’t be walking!?” said someone else, before a voice further in the distance, just a few feet south of Corcoran, yelled, “B.J. shot!

“Who?!”

“B.J.!”

“S—t! No! No! No!”

“He dead.”

A crowd of at least a dozen people gathered around the 20-something-year old who had not long ago walked out of Corcoran’s, taking the sound of his music with him.

Apparently, the shooting started as soon as he stepped out of the store, with the shooter — assuming there was only one —  aiming at B.J. as he ran south on Central Avenue. Not long into his attempt to escape, the young man dropped on the sidewalk, his body limp near a CTA bus stop, where shards of glass met blood.

He was not yet dead. He was gasping for air, fighting as he lay still. On the ground, he may have heard sounds, textured with dread, coming from a shrill chorus crowded around his body — shouts to stay awake, to pray.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” one woman shouted.

“You see what the f—k we go through? Every f—ing day!” said another woman to no one in particular, and to everyone, as she walked away from the malaise.

“Talk to him! Talk to him!” instructed a man who, along with several other bystanders, hovered over the victim. B.J. may have heard the blare of traffic, police sirens, car horns, the admonition of cops clearing the scene — the gravity of the mundane.

The police arrived shouting and mad, bulldozing their way through the crowd, yelling commands, taping off the perimeter, turning people who claimed to have known the young man or to have seen the shooting, into mumbling spectators.

The first-responding officers seemed less focused on shoving potential witnesses away than asking about details of the shooting. What was seen and heard and experienced came out piecemeal and almost by happenstance.

There was more passion in the confrontations between the civilians and the cops, who did not still the chaos as much as shift its focus. So the scene of a daytime shooting and, as later news reports would have it, a murder (of one young black man by, it is likely, another), became an arena pregnant with the possibility of another conflagration of violence.

An African American man, a few dozen feet away from B.J., had apparently hauled off and punched another African American man before being restrained by an officer. Two bodies now lay in the street. Another officer, yelling and pointing, rushed over to where B.J. lay. A few people were still administering CPR.

Ruby Humphrey, 56, said that she was standing next to B.J., near the entrance to Corcoran, when the shots rang out. Witnesses say the gunfire came from a gray or white van. Humphrey confirmed that the shots were coming from a vehicle, but said that she couldn’t identify it.

Humphrey may have been the last person to speak with the victim, who she said was nicknamed “B.J.” by those in the neighborhood. No one could give his real name.

“I said, ‘Where you living at now? You used to live over here.’ Soon as I walked away, they was shooting,” she said. “They shot all in that doorway [of Corcoran]. They shot in the store. I haven’t been in nothing like this before.”

Humphrey, who said that she’s homeless, added that she didn’t know B.J. to have been involved with gangs, “but you know how these people are around here. They try to force you into that stuff.”

Corcoran II

Broken glass at the entrance of Corcoran Grocery in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood after a shooting that resulted in five wounded and one man dead on April 7. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

According to a report published hours after the shooting by the Chicago Tribune, “four other men and a teenage boy” were shot along with B.J. They were taken to West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, where they’re in good condition.

B.J. was rushed to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he was pronounced dead. A relative told Chicago Tribune reporters that the victim was 23 and that “Facebook killed him.”

“[T]hat’s what did it,” the man said. “They boxing over Facebook. It’s so stupid.”

The cousin told the reporters that B.J. was seen by people inside of a “gray vehicle traveling east” as the young man walked out of Corcoran. The cousin said that the other people who were wounded were bystanders. They ranged in age from 17 to 46 and were all shot in the lower extremities.

Police found at least 27 shell casings at the scene. They were marked by “little yellow police cards,” Chicago Tribune reporters wrote.

Before those markers were placed, police had urged bystanders not to accidentally kick any of the casings as they were backing away from B.J.’s body.

“Papa you ain’t got no pennies do you?” Humphrey asked a reporter as she was walking across the street in order to get outside of the taped-off crime scene. When she got to the “L” station entrance, she was asked whether or not she would be willing to be photographed.

“What’s this for?” she said while striking a pose.

Someone asked her about the vehicle.

“I didn’t see it,” Humphrey said. “Baby, I was so busy running I hit the ground. God take care of us fools.”

The morning after

The next day, on April 8, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office released its daily ledger. The third case listed is that of Byron McKinney, Jr., (pictured below), a 24-year-old black male of the 500 block of North Pine Ave.

At 10 a.m., Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) convened a press conference in front of Corcoran Grocery “to demand immediate action following mass shooting in Austin.”

At the scene, which was taped off for several hours after the incident, the shards of glass and blood from the afternoon before had been swept away. Commuters waited for the 85 Central at the bus stop, inches from the spot where McKinney dropped dead. Shoppers streamed in and out of Corcoran. People gathered in front of storefronts, basking in the summertime weather.

Except for the bus stop’s missing glass and the lower left portion of Corcoran’s glass doorway that had been shattered by a bullet, it was hard to tell that a fatal shooting had happened less than 24 hours earlier.

“It’s a great morning, but it’s also a sad morning,” said Ald. Emma Mitts (37th). “Every day or every other day someone is being shot down. All I know is funeral after funeral.”

Mitts said that while on her way to work that morning, she had mistaken the head of an angel that she has in her home for a bullet hole.

“That little angel has white wings with a black head,” she said. “I look and says, ‘There’s a bullet hole in my window. Lo and behold, it was in my mind. There was an angel there looking at me, but in my mind [I saw a bullet hole].”

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 11.12.53 PM.png

Boykin, along with Mitts, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) and Rev. Ira Acree, demanded that local, state and federal leaders release a comprehensive plan to address the violence on the city’s West and South Sides.

“This violence is in three [police] districts primarily,” said Boykin. “District 15, District 11 and District 7. I know we have the collective will and political courage to reduce this violence. We must do it because we must save our children. We must save our young people. Senior citizens who live in this community deserve to walk down the street without fear of being shot and killed.”

“People who control budgets can send resources to get some of these young men some jobs, give them viable options for life,” said Acree, the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin who, over his 27 years of pastoring, has buried a small congregation of people slain by gun violence.

“We’re calling upon the governor, the mayor and the president of the county board to help us,” Acree said. “And we’ll pledge that we’ll continue to do our part.”

Taliaferro said that he’d heard from residents who lauded efforts by the police to clear the scene. He also praised one officer’s efforts to revive McKinney shortly after he was shot. But he criticized the department’s leadership for not calling him in the shooting’s aftermath.

Danny K Davis

U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis and Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), along with other elected officials, area residents and community leaders during an April 8 press conference.| Michael Romain/VFP

“It has been almost 24 hours and as alderman of this ward, I have not received a phone call from the police superintendent assuring me they have a plan in place to help reduce violence in this community and stop the bloodshed,” Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro added that he plans on meeting with 15th District Commander [Betts] about some officer’s treatment of bystanders while trying to clear the scene. The alderman also emphasized what he said was the city’s unfocused efforts at stopping the violence on the West and South Sides, particularly when compared to the focus given to dealing with North Side traffic.

“I have not heard from the superintendent’s command staff, but I look at the news and see how much they’re preparing for the traffic at Wrigley Field,” said Taliaferro, who is a former Chicago police sergeant. “I’m worried because I don’t see that same concern about the gun violence on the West and South Sides of Chicago.”

Acree, who said that members of his church were passing out pieces of religious literature in the area of the shooting while it was taped off, described a “tale of two cities in Chicago.”

“I was just teaching up at North Park University a few weeks ago,” he said. “On the North Side, you can be safe, but when you come to North Lawndale, you got to duck and dodge. In Austin, wives can’t even go to their cars at night. It’s obvious that you can’t even walk out in the daytime.”

While talking about the lack of federal funding focused on poor, minority areas across the country, Congressman Davis subtly referenced President Donald Trump. The day before McKinney was killed, the president ordered the launching of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase, which U.S. government officials believe was used to launch a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians earlier in the week.

“You cannot go into a state in this country and not find poverty, deprivation, people who have almost given up and lost hope,” said Davis, whose own grandson was murdered on the South Side last year. “They don’t know what else to do.”

“We all know that money is scarce, but it’s not too scarce to bomb and shoot missiles,” Davis said. “It’s not too scarce to kill people without knowing whether or not they were the targets that you ought to be looking at.”

West Side resident Anthony Ruffin, 46, posited himself as the embodiment of the poverty and depravity that Davis referenced.

“They done took everything we had here,” Ruffin said. “The after-school programs, the summer jobs. They done closed the schools. You got guys who will do whatever is necessary to take care of their families. I’m an ex-offender, I been out for over 10 years. I done did everything they asked me to do and it ain’t no jobs here in the city. All the jobs they are giving us are out in suburbs where we can’t get to.”

“We can’t do it alone,” Davis said, responding to Ruffin’s comments. “If I could appropriate $5 million to do something on this block, I’d say, ‘Well let’s do it.’ But I can’t do it alone. You’ve got to help convince others to have the same thoughts and ideas we have. Nobody in the country does more for ex-offenders than I do.”

James Cole, 73, owns Shine King, a venerable shoe-shining store that’s a few doors down from Corcoran. Cole also owns the building where Corcoran is located, as well as several parcels across the street. He was inside of Shine King when the shooting happened.

“This is really kids fighting each other,” Cole said. “They fight little personal fights and they want to display it on the streets … I’ve been working every day for the last 53 years. I hope things go right. I’m scared to stay in bed sometimes.”

Hughes.jpg

On Facebook, a compilation of old photos of McKinney, including one that shows him in a cap and gown, were posted to the timeline of his mother, Charlene Redmond. The post had generated over 700 like, sad and cry emojis, and over 280 comments, most expressing condolences, within a span of fewer than 48 hours.

As the politicians and news cameras dispersed, Beverly Hughes (pictured above) was sitting inside of the glassless bus shelter, waiting for the 85 Central. She said that she’s aware of what happened on Friday afternoon but that it wasn’t going keep her from getting to work.

Was she at least a little more afraid considering what happened yesterday in broad daylight?

“Baby, it’s fearful out here, period,” Hughes said. “I done lost a son to this crap. They shot my baby five times for his car.”

So how does she cope with the fear? How does she handle the cloud of sudden death hovering over this sunlit Saturday afternoon?

“Grace of God,” Hughes said. “That’s how I deal with it. If it’s my time, it’s my time. But it’s sad out here. Very sad.” VFP

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Our New Advice Columnist Wants Your Questions!

The Forest Park Review is Now Partnering with The Village Free PressWe’re proud to announce a brand new feature! In about a week or so, we’ll be publishing a weekly column called “Dear Hope,” which will be written by Gwendolyn L. Young, the Executive Director of Seed of Hope Foundation and a person who radiates a burning passion for the livelihoods of young women and girls. (You can read some of our coverage of Gwendolyn and Seed of Hope here, here and here). Gwendolyn will be taking ANY questions that ANY of our readers may have concerning the health and well-being of young girls and women.

Dear Hope, My Dad Was Never ThereIf you’re a father and have questions about your daughter’s emotional detachment, send a question to Gwendolyn. If you’re a mother and are concerned about your daughter’s academic development, send a question to Gwendolyn. If you’re a young woman or girl whose searching for ways to cope with the absence of a parent, send a question to Gwendolyn. If you’re a high school administrator and want to discover ways to engage and enhance the learning experience of female students in your school, send a question to Gwendolyn.

All questions should be forwarded to thevillagefreepress@gmail.com, and we’ll get them to her from there. You can also simply visit Seed of Hope Foundation’s Facebook page (Search: Seed of Hope Foundation) and post your question in their status box. There’s no deadline for questions, but we’d appreciate if you get as many questions to us within two weeks, so that she’ll have some substantial material to work with. And please note, you can ask as many questions as you like and you can even ask them anonymously (or under a pseudonym) if you want. Just ASK!

FIGHT TO KEEP MAYWOOD INFORMEDAbout Gwendolyn and Seed of Hope

Seed of Hope was founded four years ago by Gwendolyn’s mother, Jacqueline Barnes, a self-published author, entrepreneur, life coach and workshop facilitator. Since its founding, the organization has touched the lives of dozens of young women and girls throughout the Chicagoland area by offering emotionally intensive, intellectually stimulating and deeply intimate programming. Among the services the organization offers are roundtable discussions, book clubs, volunteer outings and life skills workshops.

Gwendolyn is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC), a member of the Sigma Beta Delta Business Honor Society and a Cum Laude graduate of Lewis University’s master’s degree program in organizational leadership. In addition to receiving the Elizabeth Timpton’s Girls Mentoring Award for her work in the community, she was also selected by BoardSource as one of twenty recipients throughout the country of the Judith O’Connor Scholar Award for emerging nonprofit leaders.

Gwendolyn’s leveraged her ten years of business experience in operations and administrative management to help grow Seed of Hope into one of the most effective female mentoring organizations in the area. In addition to designing and facilitating the organization’s workshop curriculum, she also co-authored, with her daughter, Jacquelynne, a book entitled “20 Tips to Building a Strong Mother/Daughter Bond.”

Gwendolyn’ s been married for 17 years to her beloved husband, James, and has three young adult children. VFP

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Training Day: 2 1/2 Hours With Chief Tim Curry (Part II)

By Michael Romain

~3:10 pm — As we’re riding down 9th Avenue, Curry recalls the moment he got dispatch of the big fight that happened hours earlier. He was getting his squad car washed on 4th and Lake. “You know when you’re at the car wash and your car goes in, you’re pretty much stuck there,” he says — yet another instance of how things can turn on a dime.

We cross the tracks, the mini-iconic Maywood water tower hulking in my periphery, but I don’t pay it much attention. Prompted by the talk of cars, I ask Curry about the proposal that had been brought up at the most recent LLOC meeting. The Village is considering leasing three new squad cars for the department. “How’s the present fleet?” I ask. As I say this, we cruise by the car wash where Curry had gotten momentarily stuck.

YMCA POOL OPENING NOTICE“Our newest cars are four years old,” he says. “They get no rest…they’ve got to constantly be repaired and replaced.” The repairs and the replacements, however, don’t occur as frequently as they should. Curry says that the cars are sorely needed, but the Village doesn’t have the money to buy them. So, at the LLOC meeting, Village Manager William Barlow announced a proposal “to pledge the Working Capital Fund as collateral” for the leasing of the cars.”

~3:17 pm — “Let me offer my condolences.” We’re on the north side of the Village, near the home of someone whose recently passed. He stops the car in front of the house and hops out. He’s back in less than three minutes. The funeral was today at Rock of Ages, but Curry couldn’t attend due to the fighting. His patrol of the north side is typically uneventful, a good thing.

~3:21 pm — As he’s approaching 3rd and Walton, Curry gets dispatch of somebody tearing down some signs at 244 S. 11th. “Vandalism?” I ask. “Not sure yet,” he says. It could be vandalism or the person could be removing the signs for legitimate reasons. “A lot of times, we’ll get calls, but the exact nature of the calls aren’t accurate,” he says. As we’re driving to the call, we hear over dispatch that Maywood police have gone into neighboring Broadview to assist with something. “Broadview helped us out, now we’re over there helping them out.”

~3:23 pm — We get diverted to 3rd and Oak for a more interesting call regarding open alcohol. But when we arrive at Oak, there doesn’t appear to be anyone on the scene.  As Curry is surveying the vicinity, another dispatch about a possible mother-son dispute at Burger King on 1st and Lake crackles in the car. “We’re divvying all this up between 6 cars,” Curry says as he speeds to the scene. He notes that he typically stays behind on calls like this. The chief isn’t supposed to be the first to respond.

~3:24 pm — “23,” Curry reports into his receiver. “That means we’re here,” he says before jumping out of the vehicle. I stay behind in the SUV. After some minutes, Curry’s voice materializes on the dispatch: “Disregard. Nothing pressing going on, but the manager’s going to discuss something with me.” As I’m hearing this, another officer pulls up beside Curry’s vehicle and gets out his car to go inside. Just as soon as he enters, he exits and drives off. When Curry returns, there’s nothing much to report. The mother and son friction happened in the drive-thru. The two have long since left the premises.

~3:30 pm — We’re driving westbound on Madison Street. I asked Curry how he delegates his attention, since there can be so many things happening at once. “It depends,” he says. “You never know how you’re going to be surprised in this job.” We come up on a traffic stop on the corner of 9th and Madison. “I’m about to go on talk-around,” Curry says. ‘Talk-Around’ is short for direct dispatch communication with another officer. The Chief wants to know the cause of the stop. The driver was stopped for driving in a parking lane. This is an ordinance violation. (Read more on the details of this stop here).

As we’re leaving the traffic stop, Curry talks about a critical element of police procedure that often goes unnoticed. Reporting something as minor as a traffic stop can take between 30-60 minutes. A DUI might take an officer out of rotation for as many as four hours. “If something big happens, everything would have to stop,” Curry says. Hearing this, I wonder how anyone can cope with the chronic arrhythmia of policing in a place like Maywood, which has some of the homey aspects of a Mayberry intertwined with some of the sinister aspects of a Compton. And then it hits me that trying to keep some semblance of balance and order in a place like this is like trying to modulate the personality of a schizophrenic or a manic depressive. It’s a thankless job, about as hard to appreciate as swallowing a pill. VFP

YMCA POOL OPENING NOTICE

Some Residents Welcome YMCA With Chilly Caution Amid Confusion, Misinformation

By Michael Romain

At Wednesday’s Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, David Parsons, the chief operating officer for the West Cook YMCA, hobbled to the podium on crutches. He was here to present an update on his organization’s progress in operating the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center since last speaking with the Board. Flanking him were Philip Gordon and Stacey Saunders, both YMCA board members with deep Maywood ties.

Ms. Saunders, a former Maywoodian who grew up here, expressed her appreciation for the collaboration between the YMCA and the Village of her upbringing. The partnership would further the international organization’s mission of building community spirit and pride.

David Parsons notified the board that, per its request for longer hours and more programming, the YMCA extended the pool’s hours of operations and had added programming such as morning lap swimming and lessons for toddlers, youth and adults. “In order to keep those hours all summer long,” Parsons said, “we do need everyone to come out to the pool.”

Trustee Ron Rivers, apparently unfazed by the group’s progress report, responded in a tone of disappointment.

“We spoke in April this year,” he said, “and it was vivid in my mind that we [the Board] asked you to look at the hours…I asked for swimming lessons and expanding your programming, period.” Mr. Rivers said that he and Trustee Audrey Jaycox (who wasn’t present due to bereavement) had concerns back in April that Parsons had failed to address before tonight’s LLOC meeting.

“I really feel kind of slighted that you guys didn’t see fit to get back to us to deal with some of our concerns and you’ve moved ahead and put your programs into a flyer and none of our concerns were ever addressed and we never even talked about it, but the pool is already opened,” Rivers said. “I’m perplexed why you didn’t get back to us.”

Mr. Parsons responded that he wasn’t aware that he had to report to each trustee individually and that, moreover, he believed the YMCA was working hard to meet the demands that the Board made in April, such as extending the pool’s hours, beefing up the programming and making the costs more affordable.

“We were asking for the courtesy of knowing what you were going to offer our residents ahead of time,” Rivers said. “As you stated, you’re here today, the pool’s already opened. [But] if we had any concerns can we ask you to retract that? No, the pool’s already opened…”

AD-DOES YOUR CHILD NEED MENTORING?Although Mr. Rivers’s indignation was apparent, what was less apparent was whether his indignation represented the sentiment of the board as a whole, let alone that of a significant population of Maywoodians. This ambiguity, however, was immediately cleared when Rivers expressed his frustration over a minor detail on one of the flyers the YMCA disseminated about the pool.

“What we ended up seeing,” Rivers said, “was the flyer and it upset a lot of people when it said at the bottom of the flyer that, ‘YMCA members would swim free.’ Why would you have our residents pay when members could swim free?” A loud wave of applause in agreement with Rivers washed over the half-full chamber.

But as anyone with even passing knowledge of health clubs understands, memberships aren’t free. Rivers’s assumption was clearly incorrect, which made his indignation seem contrived and acutely irresponsible. And by this point, one wondered whether or not Mr. Parsons’s crutches were due to his bending over backwards to appease Mr. Rivers’s seemingly persnickety demands.

Instead of clarifying an obvious misconception regarding what Mr. Parsons later said was a minor mistake made in haste, Mr. Rivers instead perpetuated the misinformation. And what’s more, he made it the premise of an inquisition-style public lashing of YMCA officials who seemed genuinely concerned with nothing more than satisfying the very demands that Mr. Rivers claimed went unaddressed.

Mr. Gordon, who lives in Maywood, apologized for what he said was a “slight discourtesy” before apologetically emphasizing the YMCA’s responsiveness to the Trustee’s concerns. “Immediately after you asked for extended hours and lessons…we did get to work on those concerns, but we didn’t communicate properly.”

Gordon also addressed what seemed from the applause to be a widely held assumption. “It’s a misconception when you say that YMCA members swim free, because they’re currently paying for the subsidies that the YMCA is paying out to start and maintain the pool for Maywood,” he said. “Many Maywoodians are YMCA members, I’m one of them, but many of them pay a monthly fee.” The chart below, taken from the West Cook YMCA’s website, details those membership fees.

West Cook County Membership Rates“Our wording,” Mr. Parsons mentioned, “should have said ‘including membership,’ instead of ‘free.’ We did it in haste. It was a mistake.” But he qualified his contrition. “I don’t understand how there was a misconception. There are about 91 families in Maywood who are currently members of the YMCA.”

According to Mr. Parsons, the West Cook YMCA is operating the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center at a deficit of about $15,000, which is why he and his staff have stressed the importance of attracting both Maywood residents and non-Maywood residents to the pool.

Although there are worries among some Maywoodianas about outside visitors potentially crowding out residential access to the pool, the fact remains that the volume of visitors is essential to the pool’s financial viability. The more outside visitors the pool can attract, the more likely it is to remain open for Maywood residents over the longer term.

When I later talked with Mr. Parsons about Mr. Rivers’s claims, he attributed most of the confusion to procedure. “There’s no problem, it’s just that I’m kind of a detail person, so after the first meeting, when they told us to come back and give us the information, I was waiting for them to give me a detailed date and someone to say, ‘You can come back on this date’” he said.

“It wasn’t a purposeful delay, it took some time to get the schedule and the wording right, so we wanted to make sure we were presenting it well. And we also had to think about how we could get people from outside of Maywood to come and utilize this pool…we apologized and right now, I’m working on an email to send to the Village because I want to consistently update them no what’s going on,” Parsons said.

Aside from the confusion at the LLOC meeting, it appears that the collaboration between Village management, staff and the YMCA has gone rather smoothly. West Cook YMCA President and CEO Jan Pate expressed that her organization’s working relationship with Village Manager William Barlow has been satisfactory. In addition, she said the organization has been in constant communication with Maywood Park District director Al McKinnor.

This doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t residents who aren’t concerned about the West Cook YMCA’s presence in Maywood. At the LLOC Meeting, Trustee Michael Rogers said, “Hopefully the lessons are learned, because there is a public perception problem. You need to make sure that you address the fact that you are partnering with us….The public perception is the reality….[you] have to make sure that West Cook means all of those communities and you have to make sure that Maywood is first in that partnership.”

Mr. Rogers’s observations are ironic considering both how hard the YMCA appears to have worked to gain the Village’s trust and the fact that the organization was first invited here by Maywood itself. “The Village approached David [Parsons] and said we have this pool that’s difficult to operate and would the ‘Y’ be interested in doing it,” said Ms. Pate.

On the other hand, however, the current public perception challenge that Trustee Rogers pointed out is one that the West Cook YMCA must have anticipated. “About 15 years ago, we intentionally changed our name from the Oak Park YMCA to the West Cook YMCA,” Ms. Pate said. “We haven’t always done a good job of servicing those areas, but that’s changed.”

Ms. Pate said that the organization has been careful to emphasize its supportive role in the partnership. “Anytime communities see something new and changing, people will have questions. We wanted to make sure people understand that we’re not coming in and taking over. [This is] Maywood’s pool.” (See more of my in-depth interview with Ms. Pate here).VFP

AD-SEED OF HOPE FOUNDATION

EXCLUSIVE: Former Mayor Henderson Yarbrough on What Happened, What You May Not Know and What Few [Probably] Dared to Ask

By Michael Romain

After Mayor Perkins’s swearing-in on Tuesday, and after witnessing the jubilant fete thrown by her supporters at the 200 Building, I walked the short distance down the street to Mariella’s, where the Maywood United Party was situated. When I walked in, the place was letting out. I saw a woman I recognized sitting at a table across from Mayor Yarbrough. She urged me to get something to eat (unlike down the street, there wasn’t a line for food), but I told her I’d eaten already.

“What did they have?” she said, betraying a hint of dissatisfaction with the current fare. “Fried chicken, meatballs, mostaccioli, macaroni and cheese, bread rolls…” She turned to her friend. “We’re at the wrong party,” she said. “What food did you all have here?” I asked. I really wanted to know. “Sandwiches,” she said curtly. And that about sums up the atmosphere.

There was no music playing. At least, if there was, I don’t remember it. The room’s silence was louder. I had approached the Mayor, because we had an interview set-up for the following day at the building that served as his campaign office on 17th and Madison. I wanted confirmation that he would actually show. When I emailed his communications director, Larry Shapiro, the request, I figured it to be a long-shot, that the last thing he’d want to do now that he was out of office and had time to breathe air less constricting was talk about what I assume had to be eight of the most constricting years of his life.

The night, no doubt, had to be the nadir of a mayoralty that was increasingly being defined by its descent, one that the election only magnified. For the average resident, it was becoming increasingly hard to ignore the reports unleashed by the Better Government Association (BGA) on what seemed like a weekly basis. They were amplified by the West Suburban Journal. Links to their digital versions were posted on Facebook. They were like abandoned treasure for smart political strategists in opposing camps.

They had titles like, “End Maywood’s Mayhem,” “Village of Maywood Hit With Lawsuit Over Alleged FOIA Violations,” “Maywood Democracy Isn’t Easy — or Pretty” and “Arrest of Maywood Cop a Symptom of Larger Problems in Town.” And then there was Fox 32 and images of Maywood officials involved in all kind of alleged imbroglios.

There will always be those crying wolf, but when the wolf criers outnumber those telling me to be calm and stay put, I am going to run. And to be quite frank, this writer was running in the direction of the charges, until after a while, as with any sane, moderately out-of-shape person, one must slow down and breathe. When I regained my oxygen, one inquiry popped into my head that, if I’d still been running full-speed with the charges, I would not have thought to ask. “I wonder what the Mayor has to say about all of this?”

Regardless of the truth of the reports (and there has to be a degree of truth), it occurred to me, about ten minutes into the interview, that Yarbrough had a lot to get off of his chest. He seemed like a man thirsty for personal vindication, to set the record straight.

After he briefly considered rescheduling our interview due to time constraints (and flirting with a possible interview over the phone), the Mayor, to my surprise, spontaneously directed me to an isolated area at the back of the banquet hall. He would talk tonight, if I didn’t mind (“I like to look people in the face when I speak to them,” he said). I didn’t and quickly produced my laptop, whereupon the Mayor, typically reserved and tight-lipped, turned into a reservoir over-flooding with words. And by the end of the night, my fingers would be heavy and languid from sponging them in.

This interview is broken into three parts. This is the first:

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How surprised were you by the outcome of the election?

It’s not what I expected, but I always gave [Mayor Perkins] an excellent chance, based on Guzman getting in the race.

That’s good you brought that up, because there were some hushed accusations that you may have planted candidates to run for mayor so the vote would be split in your favor.

I didn’t know either of those ladies [Nicole Gooden and Mary ‘May’ Larry, the two main candidates held under suspicion of being Yarbrough ‘plants’]. Larry, I had met once before, because she wanted to do something in Maywood and so she came to my office once. If she had come back again, I probably would not even have recognized her face. So no, no. I’ve never played those types of games. I never even considered them.

I’m assuming you knew all along that it would’ve been (and was, in fact), the opposite case. A fractured electorate would’ve hurt you. As, in fact, it did.

Absolutely.

I knew [Trustee Gil] Guzman and I would be sharing the same voters. Trustee Perkins, I knew, pretty much had her own audience. Those votes were locked in for her. Guzman and I weren’t going to take her voters. We all can count. Guzman and I couldn’t share Perkins’s voters, so I had to share what vote remained with him.

Was turnout what you expected?

It was. We made an effort to get people to turn out. Trustee Perkins also communicated constantly with her constituents. She stays in constant, one-on-one contact with her people. I give her credit. When you communicate one-on-one with people like that, you can get people’s ear and they’ll believe whatever you say. So, I wasn’t going to gain any votes based on what she was saying about me. And we, in fact, lost a few votes, because some people believe every negative thing that comes out. So, I always knew she had an excellent chance of winning. In fact, every time I had a conversation, I would say the one candidate with excellent chances short of me is Mrs. Perkins.

Do you think you could’ve done a better job reaching out to citizens while in office?

Yes. You can always do better if you have the desire and the energy to put forth, but I work a full-time job and fulfilling the positions as a part-time mayor, with all of the meetings and all of the different things I had to attend to…I didn’t have a lot of time. I have a full-time job and you have to have a full-time job unless you’re retired, because we have a managerial form of government. [Note: The mayor is only paid part-time; whereas, the village manager is the full-time, day-to-day point man or woman].

So I spent a lot of the time I had doing things like bringing in more than $17 million to redo all of our main arterial roads, installing new streetlights, making infrastructural improvements. With the economy being on the worst downtrend in sixty or seventy years, economic development was not going to happen rapidly in the Village of Maywood. We had too many things to overcome. It did happen in some surrounding communities, because they didn’t have to overcome the stigma that Maywood has.

Why do you think Maywood is so stigmatized?

Unfortunately, a lot of the stigma is attributed to our own citizens who talk negative about the town. Some people only talk about the bad things, not about the good things. So that’s our challenge. We have to change the way people think about Maywood. So, I did not have the time to go door-to-door everyday talking to people about what’s wrong. Basically, people know what’s wrong. I was trying to fix what was wrong and make it right. But while I was working, other people were talking and sometimes talk can overcome actuality. I think we did enough positive things to build on, things that made Maywood better.

We reduced crime by twenty to thirty percent. Those kinds of statistics mean something to some people, but nothing to other people. Some people base their votes on what’s happening to them personally. Also, trust has a lot to do with it. That’s one thing I thought I would never have a problem with — trust. In my heart, I always knew that everything I do, I do for the good of the town. I never, ever considered doing anything for personal gain. Nobody even approached me with anything like that, because they knew me or heard something about me. I never expected my integrity to get called into question, but people hear things.

There was, for instance, a lack of trust of the police. I took blame for the police department. But once I took accountability, we investigated our own house. We were responsible for that. We wanted to make sure our house was in order internally, because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be able to do anything externally. But, instead of getting credit for what we got done, we got blamed for what we didn’t do. That’s the nature of politics, though. That’s what you do when you’re running for political office. You make up stuff about what the incumbents aren’t doing or you focus solely on the negativity.

I ran on cleaning up government, on reform, and I was serious about that. I never expected to be blamed for it or accused for any kind of corruption. My whole purpose was to clean up corruption wherever it existed. VFP

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Robert Larson: Finding Bryeon Hunter

By Michael Romain

On April 16, an Amber Alert went out for one-year-old Bryeon Hunter. The baby’s mother, LaKesha Baker, claimed he was abducted by three Hispanic men in an SUV, but the mother’s story quickly unraveled. Less than a week after Hunter went missing, Baker and her boyfriend, Michael Scott, were charged with first-degree murder. Based on information obtained from the suspects during interrogation, authorities took to searching the Des Plaines River for Hunter’s body. But nearly a month after the child’s disappearance, his body was yet to be found.

To those who have never waded through its murkiness, the Des Plaines River may seem placid enough, nothing more than a liquid pause in a loud concrete landscape–at least until provoked and its background placidity turns intrusive.

On April 18, the Des Plaines flooded. Heavy rains had swollen the river twenty feet above its typical crest, swallowing up the rush and bustle of boulevards and bridges, flooding basements – including that of the home in which Hunter was allegedly beaten by Baker and Scott until he was limp and lifeless. He had reportedly proved difficult to potty-train.

As a result of the torrential rains, the Village’s Public Works Department was called in to pump out the deluged basement of Hunter’s home so that the evidence-gathering could proceed apace. Several massive, coordinated search operations were conducted by the Maywood Police Department, the Illinois Search and Rescue Council and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. By May 10, Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry reported, “Under the conditions of the swelling and the flow of the river, it’s unlikely that we’ll recover anything.”

Four days after the Chief’s prognosis, Robert Larson, owner of K-9 Specialties in Westchester, was out kayaking. “I’m not a kayaker. I bought it for this mission,” he said. His mission was to find Bryeon. He’d been out with his two dogs, a Yellow Labrador and a German Shepherd, for ten to twelve hours a day over the past thirty days, zealously trekking through mud up to his knees, picking through piles of debris, not quite shaking the hunch he’d had all along.

Larson's Yellow Lab Sifting Through Rubble
Larson’s Yellow Lab Sifting Through Rubble (image by Robert Larson)

“The very initial breath my dogs took was right at the bridge by McDonald’s,” he said. He believes that Baker and Scott may have thrown the body from the bridge at 1st and Lake while traveling 25-30 mph. “[The body] was going forward, which put it toward the shoreline […] I told them [the authorities] from the start where that body was going to be when I found it.”

But Larson’s brash persistence didn’t go over well with some of the search officials. The day before the torrential rains, the chief commander of the search party suggested on Larson’s Facebook page that he “leave the searching to those trained and certified.” Larson responded, “I did that and nothing is being done.” The commander assured Larson that “trained resources are being used […] when civilians with untrained resources get involved it hampers prosecution and investigation.”

Larson, who specializes in training search and rescue dogs, said that after receiving the post, he stepped down for the day and went to his son’s baseball practice. “When they were done, I continued my search.”

“I’d been on foot everyday except for [the day he found Hunter],” he said. “That day, I left my dogs at home so I could search the river through all those piles of debris that you can’t get to on the river bank.” Hence, his purchase of the plastic kayak. From its banks or from a bridge, the Des Plaines river tricks one into thinking that its a “picnic area,” Larson said. “But up close it looks like a war zone.”

Larson's Kayak
Larson’s Kayak (image by Robert Larson)

“The water’s extremely murky, it’s flowing fast, mud to my knees out there […] piles of debris all the way down. Every standing tree has a pile of debris pushed up against it. Anything you can think of – garbage, sticks, branches, grills, patio furniture, you name it.”

On May 9, Larson posted on Facebook: “NO CHILD DESERVES THIS…OUR CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE BUT SOCIETY IS CONSTANTLY KILLING THEM.” This insightful attribution of blame is as effusive as the river. It is all-encompassing and true, but impractical, which reveals less the failure of Larson’s analysis than the failure of this society to even take it into account.

The question of who killed Bryeon Hunter is incomplete if we consistently leave out the what (or the whats), which is why the account of Larson’s discovery is more than just symbolically significant. “Where I found the boy was in one of those piles. I didn’t think it would make it through that debris, but sure enough it got caught up in it.”

Larson’s kayak was moving fast with the dirty current when he caught wind of a putrid odor coming from one of the piles. “It was unclothed and decomposing, face up in the water. When I encountered him I was no more than three feet away.” Larson had to double back to verify that what he’d just seen was indeed more than a thing among a wasteland of abandoned things. “I could see his teeth, face, arms, hand,” he said.

Larson’s discovery was the culmination of a month of all-encompassing dedication. He says that he was motivated by what he perceived to be a lack of the professionals to do enough. “I saw a posting on Facebook that morning,” he said of the day he first decided to become involved. He saw the formal investigation and search efforts unfold and was unsatisfied. “I figured this is right around the corner from my house,” he said.

In fairness, Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry said that Larson never contacted him about his voluntary efforts. Curry said he only spoke to Larson when he congratulated him on discovering the body and that, instead of contacting Maywood police after his discovery, Larson contacted Cook County. Moreover, the Maywood Police Department received wide praise from Maywood residents and public officials for its handling of the case.

So far, I’ve received no reports of volunteers being spurned by the Maywood Police after presenting their willingness to assist with the search efforts. Most indications of which I’m aware point to either a lack of volunteers who presented themselves to the police or a disconnect between those leading the massive, inter-agency searches, such as the chief commander who posted on Larson’s Facebook page, and Larson himself, who claims that he led a motley crew of up to 75 intrepid volunteers throughout his 30 days of looking.

If anything, there seems to have been a lack of foresight on the part of the chief commander, who blindly dismissed the training of a man who trains search and rescue dogs for a living (his company’s name, K-9 Specialties, is on Larson’s Facebook page, so it boggles the mind how the chief could have failed to see it). The chief commander could not be reached for comment.

But this is delving in mere intrigue. The larger issue is what happened when Robert Larson got to the river. “When you walk down from that bridge, you can’t accept that being a little boy’s final resting place,” he said. And he didn’t–despite sacrificing his time and risking personal harm. And for that, he’s a hero. But what does it say of us — of everyone — that we’ve turned rivers into virtual war zones? And that the conditions that bred Bryeon’s tragedy in the first place (the impersonal, social conditions, take your pick) remain solidly in place?

Bryeon Hunter and the Des Plaines River are both victims of systemic abuses that won’t get rectified by jailing individual perpetrators or hailing individual heroes. Society itself (which means everyone) has to summon its inner Robert Larson and be willing to walk down from the comfort and safety of our constructed illusions and wade into the water of the real.

The Village of Maywood plans on formally recognizing Mr. Larson at its next board meeting on May 21, 2013. Until then, the residents of Maywood would like to extend our greatest thanks to Mr. Larson’s courageous efforts.