No Sanctuary from Gang Wars in Chicago

The young woman in black with hot pink hair stood at the curb at 46th Place and Rockwell.

It is not a place of sanctuary. It is a place of death, one of many such places in Chicago’s street gang wars, and she was marking it again.

She knelt down, sobbed, covering her face with her left hand, using her right to begin reconstructing a shrine to a dead gangster. She fished into the gutter and pulled out a stem of a broken rose. She plucked up handfuls of torn red rose petals from the gutter and put these on the curb too. She also put three candles, two rosaries and a mini bottle of tequila on the curb.

She said someone had already dismantled a makeshift shrine that had been there the day before, where 10 people were shot Sunday, two of them killed.

“I was going to take it down there where there’s a Virgin (statue),” she said, waving the back of her hand north on Rockwell. “But they don’t give a s—. They threw his s— away.”

Chicago police drove by and a cop begged her to leave “before you get yourself killed.”

“We don’t need any more people killed here,” said the officer.

“I don’t want you killed,” he said. “I understand you’ve got to grieve. I’ll wait. But you’ll have to go.”

He sat in his squad car, waiting, and she waved him away, sobbing, curling up on that curb, hugging herself with tattooed arms.

It is from this place of death that the life of Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th, was threatened by the street gangs the other day for telling an inconvenient truth: that the only innocents are the decent families in the neighborhood and their children who walk past the gang shrines on the way to school.

“The gangs aren’t innocent,” Lopez told me. “They put out their shrines, they try to recruit children and they kill. The neighbors know how bad it is, but I really don’t think Chicago knows how bad it is.”

It is an intergenerational problem, of grandfathers and fathers and sons and mothers and daughters wearing their gang colors. And it is woven into the history of Chicago politics, where for more than a century street gangs have been political muscle for the Democratic Party.

Symbolic politics take place elsewhere, in the media world, in the Twittersphere, with much snarkiness and virtue signaling. It is in this media world where Mayor Rahm Emanuel scores points for mocking President Donald Trump on immigration and sanctuary city policies.

Emanuel has problems with black voters — the trial of a white cop in the killing of black teenager Laquan McDonald is coming up, and the mayor’s disastrous handling of it all will be resurrected.

So Emanuel pivots and becomes Mayor Zorro, championing Latino causes, seeking re-election by thumping his Trump pinata.

But the mayor wasn’t at that corner of 46th Place and Rockwell. It is far from his politics. I didn’t see any pinatas there.

And no sanctuary, either, just a woman on a curb, trying to grab her breath on a quiet morning as police guarded her.

In other countries, say, on the side of a bad mountain road, the places of death are marked with white crosses, and you can see them from miles off, stretching along the hillsides below.

But on 46th Place, you turn the corner and hear the sobs and there she is, with her candles and the broken rose.

If you’ve been following the news, you know about that place of death on 46th Place and Rockwell.

A 26-year-old gang-banger, Daniel Cordova, a reputed member of the Satan’s Disciples, was killed there early Sunday morning. He’d put up video on Facebook, taunting other gangs, bragging that he planned to stay out all night in his car.

He posted it around 3 a.m. Authorities say the Almighty Saints found him a half-hour later and shot him to death.

That afternoon, on that spot, at a makeshift shrine to Cordova, a crowd including his friends and family and Satan’s Disciples, gathered to pay their respects, with their flowers and their candles and the mini tequilas and other markings of street dead.

A van pulled up. Two men got out and started shooting with rifles, police said. Eight people were shot and wounded and two more were shot and killed: Cordova’s friends, Adriana Williams and her brother Michael, were dead.

That evening, Ald. Lopez stood with neighbors and cops and said something most aldermen in gang-infested communities don’t dare say after killings at gang shrines.
He said that “no innocent lives were lost.” And immediately came those death threats. And now he has police guarding his home.

“We had a meeting Monday night right there at that place,” he told me. “Some of them got angry. But you know something? Some of the neighbors stood up to them and said their kids could have been killed. That’s what’s required here. The neighbors have to stand up.”

But Chicago’s hot summer hasn’t even hit yet. It’s still cool. And there will be more gang shrines, and other women with their candles.

I remember the woman with pink hair this way: trying to put that broken rose back together, putting handfuls of torn rose petals on the curb, patting them with her fingertips, touching the rosaries and the candles and the mini tequila again and again with the cop idling in his car.

And then she gathered them up and walked away.

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