LOGAN SQUARE — Suraj Mahadeva’s family has new rituals they never wanted.
Starting in February, the family will come together once a month for events and tributes to honor the 26-year-old, who was killed in what appears to be a random shooting in December. Each family member is getting a tattoo to pay homage to him. After that, poetry readings, art exhibits and drag shows — each on the 11th, the day Mahadeva was killed.
“Suraj was really artistic, and he really enjoyed art and poetry and dancing and drag shows — creative-type events — so it’s in honor of him, but also helping to do [our] part in helping stop gun violence,” said Jen Buckler, a family friend.
Mahadeva was one of at least seven people slain in Logan Square in 2021, the most murders the neighborhood has seen in five years, according to a Block Club analysis of police data.
Neighborhoods across the city have recorded increases
in homicides and carjackings since the start of the pandemic. Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Avondale, the city’s gentrification hot spots, have not been spared.
Homicides nearly doubled and carjackings tripled in Logan Square over the course of the public health crisis, according to city data.
Further south in Humboldt Park, where there has been more violent crime in recent years compared to the other two neighborhoods, homicides rose slightly over the past two years — and carjackings more than tripled, data shows.
Avondale also saw a dramatic increase in carjackings since the pandemic began, while the number of homicides has not changed.
Though the three neighborhoods have struggled with violent crime in the past, the ongoing surge has neighbors on edge, with some contemplating leaving the city altogether.
Meanwhile, alderpeople who represent the Northwest Side are working closely with local police to prevent violence while juggling some residents’ desire to break free of the city’s dependence on law enforcement.
“I understand people are afraid, and they immediately say, ‘Let’s amp up police.’ I don’t know if that’s the solution,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said. “I think we need to begin developing a real strong evidence-based analysis. What are the drivers behind this gun violence, and what’s needed to tackle it?”
‘The More We Work Together … The Safer We Will All Be’
Of the three Northwest Side neighborhoods, Logan Square saw the biggest increase in homicides during the pandemic, going from four in 2019 to seven in 2021, data show.
In one high-profile incident in September, a man was attacking a woman he was with, then gunned down a good Samaritan who tried to help her in the 2600 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, police said. The gunman was charged with first-degree murder.
The southwestern end of Logan Square also saw a flurry of shootings in October that police believe stemmed from a gang conflict. One of the shootings, which happened in the middle of the day in the 2100 block of North Central Park Avenue, left a man dead.
In recent years, as Logan Square has gentrified, the neighborhood has grabbed more attention for new condos and restaurants than homicides. But some, like Buckler, said that has created a false sense of security.
“People need to remind themselves that violence happens all over Chicago and … to be careful whatever neighborhood you’re in,” she said.
Ramirez-Rosa, who represents parts of Logan Square and Avondale, said his office has worked with local police — and other city agencies — to identify the cause of each shooting, a step he thinks is critically important to reducing violence in the 35th Ward and across Chicago.
“When there was a series of shootings [at Central Park and Armitage] police were able to target resources to that area and we saw violence in that area come to an end,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
“It’s about having a really good understanding of what’s happening in the community, why is it that shots are being fired, what are the conflicts and what resources can we bring to address that. Sometimes it’s [the Police Department], the Department of Buildings, the Law Department — the city does have various different tools to address the violence happening in our neighborhoods.”
Not all shootings can be explained. Mahadeva was killed in a seemingly random attack in December in the 2100 block of North Albany Avenue. The Police Department had a homicide clearance rate of 50.19 percent in 2021, according to a department news release.
In Chicago and across the country, there is a growing movement to reallocate funding away from police to social service programs and other government agencies in the wake of police violence against Black people.
“The city spends a lot of money on policing. I’m not convinced that throwing more money at the Police Department is going to get this solved, because we’ve been doing that and we see the effects,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who represents part of Logan Square, said he’s trying to bring an alternative crisis response team to the 14th Police District and the 12th Police District to help police “do the work in a more effective, efficient way.”
Local leaders, residents and victims’ families said it’s incredibly important residents and city officials work collaboratively with officers to reduce violence, rather than rely on police alone.
“The more we work together to build community and look out for one another, the safer we will all be,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
Humboldt Park also saw an increase in homicides during the pandemic, jumping from 29 in 2019 to 34 in 2021, part of a steady toll over the past decade, according to data. Community leaders have said many residents in the neighborhood lack resources, which can fuel violence.
Scott Morrow has been hospitalized 12 times since he was shot in his back this summer during the Puerto Rican Parade festivities in Humboldt Park.
Doctors removed Morrow’s spleen, his left kidney and part of his pancreas, and they repaired holes in his stomach and diaphragm. Morrow hoped the procedures would help him recover, but his health only got worse for a time, mostly because of an abscess.
Seven months later, the 41-year-old music writer is finally on his way to feeling better, thanks to doctors and emotional support from friends and family. But the shooting left a mark on his life he won’t soon forget.
“I still feel very lucky and grateful” to be alive, Morrow said. “This has been the most physically challenging time of my life.”
Morrow has lived with his parents in suburban Downers Grove since the shooting, but he plans to move back into his Logan Square apartment once he’s cleared to do so. The only issue is Morrow’s apartment is just one block away from where Mahadeva was shot and killed.
“It’s not like I’m immediately fearful for my safety or anything, but it is something I may be grappling with at some point, like, ‘Do I want to stay here?’ I would much rather be in the city than in a suburb, but obviously I don’t want to be around craziness,” Morrow said.
‘More Police Isn’t Going To Solve This’
Like the rest of the city, the Northwest Side has seen a huge surge in carjackings amid the pandemic.
In Logan Square, carjackings tripled, rising from 11 in 2019 to 31 in 2021, data shows. Neighboring Humboldt Park has seen an explosion in carjackings, going from 15 in 2019 to 50 in 2021, according to the data. And in Avondale, the crimes more than doubled, from 10 in 2019 to 24 in 2021.
Longtime Logan Square resident Steve Hier said he knows three people who have been carjacked in recent months. Hier, who’s lived off Palmer Square Park since 1977, said he’s worried for his safety like never before.
“When I moved here to Palmer Square, it was a crazy gang time, but never have I ever really felt fear for my own safety, worrying what time it is when I go out,” Hier said.
“I don’t think I’d want to be going out to restaurants at night and … be walking back to my car looking over my shoulder, [wondering] if somebody’s got their eyeballs on me. I’ve never felt that way.”
As the crime wave persists, some Logan Square residents have urged alderpeople and police to increase officer patrols and install more police cameras in the neighborhood. Asked if the 14th Police District is under-staffed, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who represents part of Logan Square, told Block Club in December the district is “overwhelmed” with calls for service.
Other frustrated residents are pressing for deeper fixes, like allocating more money to social service programs.
“More police isn’t going to solve this. Tougher court sentences isn’t going to stop it,” Hier said, adding that many who commit violent crimes are from neglected neighborhoods that desperately need a jolt of social and economic investment.
Ramirez-Rosa and local police are using a collaborative approach to tackle the carjacking problem in the 35th Ward’s portion of Avondale.
After determining a majority of the carjackings in the area have occurred near the Kennedy Expressway, Ramirez-Rosa had police install a camera and license plate reader at Kimball Avenue and Addison Street facing the expressway. State police will also install cameras, Ramirez-Rosa said.
“The camera with [the license plate reader] may not deter future carjackings, but it is our hope that it will help provide the police with the evidence they need to solve these crimes, and in so doing help prevent carjackings in the area,” the alderman said.
This is the kind of evidence-based strategic plan Ramirez-Rosa hopes will reduce violent crime in his pocket of the city.
“In order to prescribe the treatment, we need to know the source of the problem,” he said.
For victims and their families, especially those coping with the loss of a loved one, there are no easy solutions.
“I think the city needs to do more, and I don’t know what it is — if it’s more law enforcement, gun control or outreach programs — but I just know that we need to do more as a city,” Buckler said.
Quinn Myers contributed reporting.
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