Photographing Crime Scenes in Chicago on One of the Most Violent Weekends of the Year
It’s 1:30 AM on the morning of July 5, and we’re flying down the expressway at 90 miles an hour. Someone has just been shot near West 63rd Street and South Austin Avenue—we know this from the Twitter accounts operated by police-scanner geeks and our own $50 RadioShack scanner, set to one of the many dispatch channels operated by the Chicago Police Department. All evening the device has been crackling with a constant stream of out-of-breath cops spitting out the addresses and conditions of victims. This is just our latest target in the middle of a long night.
Sitting in the driver’s seat is Alex Wroblewski, a 27-year-old Chicago Sun-Times contract photographer who spends his summer weekends chasing the voices that burst through his scanner’s cheap speaker, trying to get to the scenes before anyone else in order to capture the rawest images. With him is Sun-Times staff reporter Sam Charles, who’s on hand to pull quotes out of whatever cops and victims he runs into. In the 12 hours I’ll spend with Alex on this Independence Day weekend, we’ll travel to a dozen of these scenes, a fraction of the total carnage that will take place in the city. From Thursday night to Monday morning, 82 Chicagoans will have been shot and 14 killed, including five people—two of them boys under the age of 17—gunned down by police for making threats or refusing to drop their handguns. It’s an especially bad stretch of time for a city some have dubbed “Chiraq,” a nickname that causes Alex and Sam to groan.
“The term ‘Chiraq’ is a fucked-up point of pride for too many people in the city,” Sam says. “It’s disrespectful to our city as a whole and to the people of Iraq. Too many out-of-town stupid media outlets—VICE included, frankly—have parroted the term to give it undeserved credibility and staying power.”
You Can Kill Anyone with Your Car, As Long As You Don’t Really Mean
On May 29 of last year, Bobby Cann left the Groupon offices in Chicago, where he worked as an editorial tools specialist. Traveling north on his bicycle, he rode up wide, sunny Larrabee Street. As he entered the intersection at Clybourn Avenue, a Mercedes SUV traveling over 50 miles per hour slammed into him from behind. The impact threw Cann into the air. He landed unconscious, blood streaming out of his mouth and his left leg severed. Bystanders, including a registered nurse, rushed to help. Shortly after transport to a nearby hospital, he died.
The Cann case is an exception that proves the rule. “The criminal case is sort of about the outrageous nature of what happened,” Todd Smith, a civil attorney for Cann’s family, concedes. “[San Hamel was] driving under the influence on the city streets where things are congested, and [there was] the complete lack of braking of any sort, the enormous impact of a car of thousands of pounds going in excess of 50 miles per hour, hitting just the human body.” San Hamel’s blood alcohol level was 0.127 at the time of the crash.
Bicyclists who pushed for prosecution also helped the cause. Last summer, over 5,000 people signed a petition asking state’s attorney Anita Alvarez to refuse a plea bargain from San Hamel. Local activist Robert Kastigar, who started the petition, says he believes it encouraged the state to pursue the case. A representative of Chicago advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance says the involvement of activists is likely to influence stiffer sentencing.
Nationwide, incidents like Cann’s often result in misdemeanor charges, tickets, or nothing. Leah Shahum from the San Francisco Bike Coalition told the New York Times last year that her organization does “not know of a single case of a cyclist fatality in which the driver was prosecuted, except for D.U.I. or hit-and-run.” Kristin Smith, also of the SF Coalition, says that “Last year, four people were hit and killed in San Francisco and no charges were ever brought,” including for a collision captured on video that showed the driver was at fault. Last year in New York City, the bike advocacy organization Time’s Up pushed for changes in police investigations of bicyclist deaths by painting chalk body outlines on streets, marked with words familiar from NYPD reports: “No Criminality Suspected.”
Inside the 2014 International Mr. Leather Conference
This year’s 36th annual International Mr. Leather conference drew a diverse contingency of leathermen and leatherwomen to the city of Chicago. An estimated 20,000 visitors participated in the annual gathering’s events, and while it’s generally considered a conference for leather, latex, and kink, the weekend’s festivities culminate in two contests: International Mr. Leather, and the International Bootblack Competition.
Paul D’Amato has been documenting dramas in the everyday lives of ordinary people for more than two decades. Mossless magazine speaks with him about photographing the West Side of Chicago for his new book, We Shall.
Last fall, black dust began to blow through residential neighborhoods on the southeast side of Chicago. Only it wasn’t really dust; it was a fine black residue that clung to everything it touched, including noses and throats. Residents eventually learned that it was an oil byproduct called petroleum coke — petcoke for short — and it was being stored in massive uncovered piles at facilities owned by the Koch brothers. VICE News’s Danny Gold traveled to Chicago to see what happens when clouds of toxic oil dust blow through the Windy City.
In the fifth episode of Chiraq, we step outside of drill music and catch up with Chicago rapper Vic Mensa and the rest of his SAVEMONEY crew. They spend the day gathering cash to bail fellow rapper Joey Purp out of jail, and on the way we chat about the city’s scene. Vic doesn’t associate himself with the Chiraq lifestyle because he feels it’s too negative, but understands the struggles of those who come from that part of the city. He’s also, surprisingly, a really big fan of Rage Against the Machine.
In the fourth episode of Noisey’s Chiraq, we catch up extensively with Lil Durk, the next superstar of the Drill scene and go to a show with fellow 300 / OTF member Lil Reese.
It’s the night of Lollapalooza, but that doesn’t matter because inside and outside the venue, the crowd is packed to the walls. Afterwards, we roll through the South Side of Chicago with Durk and meet his family, learning about the life from which he came, and why he “terrifies the city.”
In the second episode of Noisey’s Chiraq, Chief Keef and his crew head to New York while we catch up with MGS and Global Gangstas Entertainment, two other rap collectives in Chicago. They, along with the Chicago Police Department, speak extensively on the social and cultural challenges faced by the community. Near the end, we’re introduced to Yung Trell, a 14-year-old rapper from Englewood who’s looking for his break.