May 6, 2014
By Rachel Janik
The Chicago Bureau
Passing drivers honked their horns in support Saturday as mourners marched down Austin’s streets in honor of Artez McBride.
Family, friends, neighbors and teachers wore red and white, scattering rose petals on the concrete as they chanted, “We need more love! Stop the violence!”
McBride, 20, nicknamed “Spud,” was struck down early April 26 by a car as he crossed the street. He died later that morning. Darrell Cooper, 41, was charged with first-degree murder for intentionally hitting McBride with his vehicle.
According to court records, the two had argued shortly before the incident. A week later, people at a memorial reflected on the toll the loss has taken on the West Side neighborhood.
“He touched so many lives, and he was the voice of reason for so many,” said Carmelita Earls, McBride’s neighbor. “He was always that tap on the shoulder.”
Earls said she met McBride and his mother, Tiffany, four years ago when Earls welcomed them to the block, and “they fit like a hand in a glove.” The community will miss McBride’s good influence, she said—something places like Austin struggle to hold on to. Even when residents manage to avoid direct violence, it often drives them away.
The University of Chicago Crime Lab says the city loses 70 people to suburban flight for every homicide, creating a vacuum in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods and allowing violence to thrive.
The effect is especially severe in Austin, as Ron Reid, a 40-year resident and member of the Central Austin Neighborhood Association, said joblessness, hopelessness and poor police presence encourage violence.
“People think they can get away with murder because that’s actually the case,” he said. “What kind of message does that send? It’s no different from the Wild West.”
With every loss—from violence or from flight—the problem worsens.
“It’s not just a capital investment, it’s a social investment,” said Mike Rodriguez, commissioner of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, a state board that advises the governor on the juvenile justice system. “There is a hole that’s left there, and it’s filled by negativity.”
Rodriguez, of Little Village, is also the executive director of Enlace Chicago, which works with middle-school youth who are at risk of gun violence. Although the murder rate has dropped in Little Village, he said, residents think the numbers have gone up.
“People become disenchanted,” he said. “They no longer want to believe in their neighbors.”
McBride wasn’t disenchanted, Earls said. He was a college student who aspired to become a math teacher. “This is a young man that had morals, values and dreams,” she said. “He saw what he believed, instead of believed what he saw.”
According to the family, McBride had no prior relationship with the accused and no adult record.
“You become so desensitized,” Reid said.
Chanel McGee, 17, has faced similar troubles in Trumbull Park on the South Side. After Joseph “JoJo” Brewer Jr., her 16-year-old neighbor, was fatally shot on July 14, 2013, her younger brother mostly kept to the house.
“I think he’s scared, but then he gets so bored and he forgets about being scared,” said McGee, a junior at Bowen and Mash reporter. “He just wants to get out.”
Arthur Lurigio, a professor of clinical psychology, criminal justice and criminology at Loyola University, said that when residents mentally check out, it has long term repercussions on the neighborhood.
“Crime causes crime,” he said. “I don’t mean that facetiously.”
People who can leave, do, he said. Those who stay keep to themselves, and the vacant homes and streets provide convenient meeting places for gangs and drug markets.
Morgan Park alum and West Englewood resident Maya Bryant was numb to crime until she lost her friend Tyrone Lawson, who was shot after a basketball game last year.
“It hit home,” said Bryant, a Harold Washington College freshman who writes for True Star magazine.
“I look at the next block, and I can count on one hand the houses that aren’t vacant,” Bryant said. “No kids are in the park, we can’t take a walk down the street.”
Still, some like McGee refuse to hole up.
“What am I going to do, ball myself up and hide?” McGee said. “I have things to do; I have a life.”
The funeral home for McBride’s visitation on Saturday was bursting with people, many of them young. They wore self-made shirts bearing McBride’s picture and simple phrases. One read: “My champion, my idol, and now my guardian angel.”
Rachel Janik is a junior at Northwestern University. The Tribune contributed to this report.
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