On a recent Friday afternoon at Willye B. White Park on Howard Street in Rogers Park, dozens of kids hit baseballs, kicked soccer balls and swung on the playset.
The shrieks that accompanied the child’s play were loud—yet it was a quiet afternoon for the park and the stretch of Howard Street between Ashland Avenue and Paulina Street. That area, just east of the Howard stop on the Red, Yellow and Purple lines, was the site of two homicides this spring.
Compared with last year, killings are up in Rogers Park, which has logged five homicides so far this year, as of Monday afternoon.
The Far North Side community area—which has loose borders of the city of Evanston along Juneway Terrace to Devon Avenue north to south; and Lake Michigan to Ridge Boulevard east to west—recorded four homicides last year, all in the second half of the year, according to RedEye data.
When the question arises about the perception of safety in Rogers Park, the answers are diverse—much like the makeup of Rogers Park.
The community area long has been one of the most diverse areas in Chicago. White residents comprise about 40 percent of the community while black residents make up 26 percent and Hispanic and Latino residents fill in about 24 percent, according to 2010 Census numbers.
Some residents vociferously have expressed concern about their safety on blogs, online community forums and police beat meetings while others have pointed out that crime in the neighborhood is not as bad as it was in the early 1990s, and the shootings are limited to a few pockets of Rogers Park affected by gang conflict.
In comparison with the rest of Chicago, Rogers Park is “less dangerous than the worst parts of town and more dangerous than the best parts of town. It’s right in the middle,” said Northwestern University English professor Bill Savage, a lifelong resident.
Rogers Park ranks 12th in terms of the most homicides among Chicago’s 77 community areas this year through Monday afternoon, according to a RedEye analysis of preliminary police data. In 2013, Rogers Park ranked 30th, RedEye determined.
Many of the homicides of the past year have been confined to the northern section of the community area, off Howard Street near White Park. A police spokesman referred questions about crime to Thomas Waldera, commander for the 24th District, which includes Rogers Park and West Ridge. He was unavailable for comment.
The office of Ald. Joe Moore (49th), whose ward includes Rogers Park, also did not return requests for comment.
Angalia Bianca, a Rogers Park resident who worked as a supervisor for the anti-violence group CeaseFire in the area until October 2012, said the recent shootings stem from opposing gangs voicing their disrespect for each other through YouTube videos and other social media. Three of Rogers Park’s five homicide victims this year were teenagers.
Keno Glass, 16, was shot and killed April 15 in the 7600 block of North Ashland Avenue, near White Park. Glass, who lived in East Garfield Park, was an aspiring rapper who went by the name Kay Pee Lashore, according to media reports. A video featuring him called “Hang Wit Me,” that referenced a “kill season,” was posted on YouTube in September.
“It’s senseless. It really is horrific acts of violence that are happening with our youth,” said Bianca, who said she doesn’t typically feel scared in her neighborhood. “It’s kind of getting out of hand.”
Bianca was promoted to implementation specialist to train CeaseFire staff and has been spending time in Roseland, South Chicago, Austin and Englewood recently, but still drives through Rogers Park violence hotspots.
She moved to Rogers Park in 2011 and is one of the newer residents of the community, which sees frequent turnover as well as residents who plant roots for decades.
Savage, a Chicago historian, said three types of residents populate Rogers Park: students who attend Loyola and stick around the neighborhood for four to six years, immigrants who first move to Chicago in need of affordable housing and lifelong residents.
At White Park, residents of an adjacent apartment complex told RedEye they like Rogers Park because of its proximity to the Red Line and its community diversity. But they also talked of the pain and fear they feel watching shootings in their neighborhood.
One woman said she was in her apartment when she heard gunshots as Blake Lamb, 22, was killed at the park in July 2013.
She and a few neighbors complained to RedEye about the lack of arrests in these cases. According to police data, charges have been filed in one of the five Rogers Park homicides this year.
The residents pointed at blue-light cameras that are supposed to act as surveillance in the neighborhood, but acknowledged that some people don’t speak up to the police to give information that could be used to solve cases because they fear retaliation. They declined to provide their real names to RedEye.
Preston Martin, 25, said he visits White Park several times a week and lets his two young children play there. He said he’s lived in Rogers Park all his life and the current violence doesn’t seem to be as bad as when he grew up in the 1990s.
The Rogers Park District, which covered Rogers Park and neighboring areas, logged 20 killings in 1991. More than 900 homicides, double the 2013 murder toll, were recorded citywide that year, according to a Tribune article at the time.
Martin said the problem now stems from youth who don’t have a respect for others or themselves. They act out with violence when they feel disrespected.
“You’ll find a lot of personal conflicts in this neighborhood,” said Martin, adding that he is not gang-affiliated but knows people who are. “It’s people’s personal situations that they pull [the neighborhood into].”
Rogers Park has been struggling with the perception of being a violent area, especially on Howard Street, residents say.
One of the newest additions to Howard Street is the Hello! Howard Garden, a community planting space off Ashland Avenue, across from White Park. On a recent afternoon, Brett Beasley walked his pitbull Bea as his wife worked in the garden.
Beasley, a Loyola graduate student studying Victorian literature, said he used to live in Rogers Park but bought a condo nearby in Evanston last year. He still frequently visits Rogers Park, especially since he began planting tomatoes, broccoli and chard in the garden this year.
He said the first time he heard gunshots in the city was June 6, when 18-year-old Alante Vallejo was killed in the 1900 block of West Howard Street as Beasley walked Bea. He said there are challenges in Rogers Park but is hopeful the neighborhood will overcome them.
“I feel those acts of violence haven’t been random. I don’t feel like a target,” said Beasley, 26. “I don’t feel more unsafe here than other places I go.”