Gun Shots Interrupt Interview, But The Conversation Just Gets Started
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Shootings are common in Chicago. So far this year, police have responded to more than 600 of them. That includes more than 100 homicides. What's uncommon is a reporter at the scene who sees and hears it. And that happened just last week to NPR's David Schaper. He was interviewing people on Chicago's South side about neighborhood improvement when the shots rang out. The conversation immediately shifted to gun violence. Here's David.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The interruption to the interview on Asiaha Butler's front porch that warm afternoon was shockingly abrupt.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
ASIAHA BUTLER: Oh, my Jesus.
SCHAPER: A man stood outside of his car in broad daylight in the middle of the street, about 30 to 40 yards away, firing a large semi-automatic rifle at a van that had just sped around the corner. The shooter then calmly got back into his car, drove past us and in seconds, both he and his target were gone. Thirty-eight-year-old Asiaha Butler has lived on this block in Chicago's Englewood community with her husband and teenage daughter for more than a decade. And she stood in shocked disbelief that such a violent act had just happened right in front of us.
BUTLER: I have not ever seen, visibly, since we've been here, someone get out of a car and shoot. I've heard people get shot, and I've heard people say there have been shootings. But I've never visibly seen, that's probably why I was just stunned.
SCHAPER: Joining Butler on her front porch is 31-year-old Demond Drummer.
DEMOND DRUMMER: I've lived all over. I'm an Army brat. The only time I've been outside and seen a gun and people shooting has been in Panama City, Panama, and Chicago. And this is the third time in Chicago that I've been uncomfortably close.
SCHAPER: Drummer and Butler are founding members of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, or R.A.G.E.
DRUMMER: And it's unacceptable. It's unacceptable.
SCHAPER: Drummer calls it unacceptable because kids were out playing. He says the shooting was unacceptable because this is considered a safe block, unacceptable because a reporter witnessing the shooting might now portray Englewood as a more violent and dangerous place.
DRUMMER: Right? No sane person would (laughing) live in a neighborhood - right? - where this is, like, happening every day on every corner, right?
BUTLER: Right. So it's unfortunate that you had to witness that because - and it may, you know - because it's not - this is not what we see.
SCHAPER: Butler says she sees a lot of people in Englewood working to try to improve the community. But she adds there are still too few who are invested enough in trying to solve her neighborhood's problems.
BUTLER: There's certain things that are not going to happen on certain people's blocks if residents were more engaged. If it was more homeowners on this block, things like that wouldn't happen. The dynamics of the block wouldn't constantly change because you'll have people who are invested, who live here.
SCHAPER: Since a minute or two after the shooting, several police cars have been driving slowly by, with officers looking at Butler, Drummer and the other neighbors who are out.
DRUMMER: You notice how there's no real engagement, right? You don't see cops getting out the car and talking to people and asking questions. You noticed that, right?
SCHAPER: About 15 minutes after the shots rang out, more police cars arrive, and officers string yellow tape around the crime scene. But none of them are talking yet to the residents who witnessed the shooting. Drummer and Butler say relations with the police are a constant point of friction in Englewood.
DRUMMER: This is not how you - this is not building a partnership.
BUTLER: And this is why things continue to go the way that it does.
DRUMMER: The dynamic that you see, it's just a very different style of engagement, where everybody here, except for you, is a suspect.
SCHAPER: Detectives do eventually come up to the porch to get our descriptions of the shooting, the gunman and his car. They tell us a passenger in the van was hit, wounded in the head with the bullet lodged in his skull, behind his ear. Drummer, Butler and other neighbors express other frustrations over the lack of good jobs in Englewood, the problems with the schools, the easy availability of guns, the dearth of resources for mental illness, and that many residents appear to be caught in a cycle of dependency on drugs and alcohol and reliance on government programs. These are all huge inner-city problems that at times Drummer and Butler say can seem insurmountable.
BUTLER: It doesn't make me want to give up. It makes you want to push more.
DRUMMER: That's right.
BUTLER: And it makes us want to engage more people and it makes us want to constantly be pushing another message because we know that that's not just the only reality.
SCHAPER: Police have not yet arrested a suspect in the shooting. The victim, a 28-year-old man, survived and has been released from a Chicago hospital. Since last week's shooting, there have three additional shootings in Englewood, including one that was fatal. But homicides in the neighborhood are down 50 percent this year from 2012. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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