CHICAGO – When 80-degree temperatures roll into Chicago in time for Memorial Day weekend, Solomon Johnson knows just where he’ll be: safely inside his centrally cooled Austin home, maybe slipping out for a barbecue dinner at his grandmother’s home in a safer neighborhood.
One thing is for sure. He won’t be enjoying the outdoors on the unofficial opening weekend of the summer. There have been too many shootings around his home, and there’ll be even more as the weather finally turns.
“It’s rough, especially this weekend. It’s like that every time it gets warm,” Johnson, 30, said as he ate elotes next to a vendor’s cart near the Little Village arch. “That’s why I’ve got air conditioning.”
A short distance away, Amber Irizarry, 25, walked with her baby and three other young relatives down the busy Little Village strip. She plans to attend a family cookout over the holiday weekend — just not in the city.
“We’re definitely concerned,” Irizarry said as she pushed a stroller with her 6-month-old daughter, Mackenzie, the three other children following close behind. “We go out to Berwyn because we get to spend time [with loved ones] and don’t have to hear gunshots and distinguish fireworks and gunshots.”
Johnson and Irizarry live in some of the most violent neighborhoods in Chicago, according to data kept by the Chicago Tribune.
While shootings are down across the city, they have been concentrated in three West Side police districts that border one another: Harrison, Austin and Ogden..
The Chicago Police Department plans to deploy more than 1,000 extra officers to contain violence over the weekend.
Two years ago, 27 of the 69 people hit by gunfire over the Memorial Day weekend were shot in or near the Harrison district. So many were shot there that patrols were beefed up. Nine more people were shot over the next two days.
A recent report from the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that the percentage of black men ages 20-24 who weren’t working or in school had dropped between 2014 and 2016. But the overall percentage remained high at 37 percent.
“If you come around here at night, guys are doing what they have to do in order to survive,” Cornelius Longstreet, a retired Chicago police detective, said as he looked from the second-floor window of a building he owns on Roosevelt Road overlooking Douglas Park in North Lawndale.
Longstreet spent his childhood and part of his police career on the West Side. A holiday weekend in his community without violence is simply “not realistic,” he said, blaming scarce job prospects and training opportunities for creating a cycle of crime and violence.
And the warm weather offers a new chance to settle old scores.
“With the weather changing, if I have a beef with you, I know you’re going to be [outside],” he said. “Oftentimes, if I’m looking for somebody, it’s a whole lot easier to find them when it’s nice outside. A lot of stuff is not random. This is not the wild, wild West. [Gunmen] are not just arbitrarily shooting people.”