University of Chicago leaders report that the city is formalizing "a number of short and longer-term public safety strategies specifically for the Hyde Park and surrounding communities" in the aftermath of shootings across the neighborhood on Tuesday, Nov. 9.
Around noon, a trio of men started shooting near 53rd Street and S. Harper Avenue. No injuries were reported; several businesses and vehicles were damaged. A few hours later a recent U. of C. graduate was killed during an armed robbery at 54th Place and S. Ellis Ave. A man was also stabbed to death that morning in a domestic incident.
On Tuesday evening, Alds. Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) met with Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown, 1st Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter, Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan and Second District Cmdr. Joshua Wallace. From the university, Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs Derek R.B. Douglas, Heath and Interim police Chief Michael Kwiatkowski attended.
The two police departments will make a long-term plan for the alderwomen by the fourth week of November. More law enforcement resources are coming to Hyde Park streets immediately.
Reached over email, Wallace said his district is working in collaboration with the UCPD to keep Hyde Park students, faculty and residents safe.
In a joint interview after the Tuesday meeting, King and Hairston said they support having more patrolmen in the neighborhood after the day’s chaos. Said Hairston, "I think that people need to know that (police) are on it. But also, we need the shooters to be apprehended."
"I think more eyes and ears on the streets can only help the situation," King said. "There needs to be accountability on all parts: Accountability of the offenders and of our safety resources. These are brazen acts of defiance in the middle of our downtown, at the height of lunch hour, not to mention the other horrific incidents that happened as well."
"There are some things that we can do immediately," she said. "I know there's a bigger systemic issue, but quite frankly we're looking at some immediate accountability issues, making sure that we have enough resources on the street, making sure that those resources are accountable to our community, and as Ald. Hairston said, that we hold these offenders accountable.
"That's real. I think people need to know that people are being held accountable. There's a sense of lawlessness that's going on — not only in our community, but throughout the city. But this struck at the heart of Hyde Park. So of course Hyde Parkers are going to be afraid. And one of the things that I think will bring people solace is to know that people are being held accountable."
Concretely, Hairston mentioned the installation of cameras on 53rd Street for surveillance when crime happens. She said police responded quickly because of a nearby stationing of patrolmen and because ShotSpotter, the gunfire surveillance technology, alerted them.
Both women said they empathized with community members' frustration and fear.
"I don't want people to retreat," King said. "I want them to be even more vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Report everything. All hands on deck. We need the community to come forward. We need our law enforcement partners to come forward. Everybody has to. We can't retreat, even though that may be folks' first instinct."
U. of C. alum identified as 24-year-old U. of C. graduate
The University of Chicago alumnus killed at 54th Place and Ellis was identified Wednesday as 24-year-old Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng.
Zheng, originally from Chengdu, China, graduated from the school this year with a master’s in statistics, said U. of C. President Paul Alivisatos in a video statement released Wednesday. He attended the University of Hong Kong from 2015 to 2019, according to his LinkedIn page.
Through a university spokesperson, a pair of U. of C. statistics professors shared remembrances of Zheng.
"Dennis was an outstanding student and passionate about learning. He was motivated, independent, and intellectually curious. Never a passive learner, Dennis asked many questions in and out of the classroom, debated about statistical methodology, and sometimes challenged the status-quo answers," said Mei Wang, director of the statistics master's program at the school. "Dennis planned to apply for doctoral studies. He aspired to be a data scientist who could solve important problems facing our society, and who could 'help people to help more people.'"
Dan Nicolae, chair of the Statistics Department, said he had worked with Zheng on his master's thesis about machine learning and gene regulation. "Dennis was not only a promising scholar but also a wonderful person, always willing to help other students. He will be missed by all who knew him," he said.
In his video statement, Alivisatos reiterated the need to address violence in the city, stating that “it is more vital than ever for the University of Chicago and our neighbors on the South Side to show what is possible by coming together with purpose and creativity to address this issue.”
“We have taken positive steps to strengthen public safety, but know there is much more to do. This includes working with our neighbors, calling on our University community’s academic and policy expertise, joining in partnership with other Chicago institutions, corporations and concerned citizens, and seeking the support of city, state, and federal elected officials and agencies. We must and we will push constantly for our city and our own University community to work on this problem with the immediacy, vision and ambition that it demands.”
In a memo to the university community, Alivisatos and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said they have been in contact with Mayor Lori Lightfoot as well as Brown and the local alderwomen.
A spokesperson for the mayor issued a statement on Wednesday, Nov. 10, confirming the meetings she has had with senior university and police officials, adding, “The recent incidents that occurred in Hyde Park are beyond tragic, and like all violent crime that occurs in Chicago, wholly unacceptable. The mayor extends her sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of Shaoxiong Zheng. Detectives are hard at work on the case and are pursuing a number of leads.”
“In the short term, the city is partnering with the University of Chicago to increase patrols and visibility of campus police, as well as CPD officers, both on the University of Chicago’s campus and around Hyde Park. CPD will also be conducting more traffic safety missions along major thoroughfares throughout Hyde Park. In the longer term, the city will continue engaging local community members, aldermen and other involved stakeholders to gather feedback and recommendations on enhancing other public safety measures throughout the Hyde Park and Kenwood communities.”
More information given about 53rd Street shooting
King gave more information about the first shooting at a Wednesday press conference at the scene. A vehicle heading westbound on 53rd Street stopped at the intersection with Harper. Three offenders were in the car; one stepped out, and the three started shooting at an intended target, who was not congressional candidate and My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole.
"Law enforcement has a number of leads and is working towards finding those individuals," King said.
King said she was not at liberty to discuss police leads about who their target was, and Hairston was not aware of police leads on the suspects who murdered Zheng in the course of a robbery later Tuesday afternoon.
Hyde Park is already a neighborhood patrolled by two police departments, and numerous uniformed U. of C. security guards are stationed throughout its streets.
Asked what benefit increased police patrols would bring in the aftermath of the gun violence, Hairston said, "Let's be realistic about this: if someone rides down the street, jumps out of a car and starts shooting, I don't know if anybody can prevent that. What we have to do is go to the source, right? We have to do what we can to make the streets safe so that people feel safe."
"We're not going to police ourselves out of this," she said. "It takes a bunch of work."
King agreed with Hairston and said that, due to a 2011 police district restructuring, there are 250 officers in the area today instead of 650 a decade ago.
"We need to put that in perspective, but we're not going to police our way out of this," she said. "This is all hands on deck."
Hairston said constituents have been calling her office, 2325 E. 71st St., since the crimes to offer their help and support.
"I am here to let you know and to let anybody else know that we are a community. We have taken our time, our families, our resources to bring opportunity to this street so that we can have those things that they have everywhere else — and we're not gonna let you tear it up," she said.
She encouraged constituents to call their offices: King's, 435 E. 35th St., at 773-536-8103, and Hairston's at 773-324-5555.
Wendy Williams, the U. of C.'s executive director of community partnerships, stressed the school's concern for the safety of both Hyde Parkers and its tenants.
"We are deeply concerned about the senseless loss of life we have seen for far too long," she said. "The university is committed to partnering with the community to try and find a solution."
"We are a diverse community where all races and all income levels work live and play. And despite the terrible incidents of yesterday, we will band together to remain a safe community," she said. "We must and we will push constantly for our city and for our university community to work on this problem with immediacy, vision and the ambition it demands."
Jackie Jackson, who owns the Kilwins franchise, 5226 S. Harper Ave., where a window was shot out, said she was thankful that she and her employees' are safe after the gun violence as well as her righteous indignation and exhaustion, particularly as her seasonal business is up for a lease renewal after its first 10 years of operation.
"I was one of the first pioneers who stepped out on faith and said 'I want to bring my Kilwins here to my neighborhood,'" said the Bronzeville resident. "I had to fight to be here."
Kilwins, a Michigan company, has more than 150 locations, including stores on Alabama's Gulf Coast, Cape Cod and Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. Jackson owns franchises in the Loop, 310 S. Michigan Ave. which was looted during last summer's riots, and Navy Pier; she said that when she told corporate that she wanted to open on the South Side, they told her it would never work.
"I had to fight to be here, because I wanted to be here, because this community is everything to me. And we deserve the same things that they have on the North Side, downtown and the suburbs," said Jackson. "At my Michigan Avenue store and my Navy Pier store, my customers are transactional customers. My customers here are relational customers. I know their names. I know what they get."
Jackson shared that her health is not well and that she fears what would have happened had she experienced the shock of gunfire when it happened. She is closing her store for the time being and said she may move it from its current location, but plans to come back to the neighborhood.
WHPK radio host Mario Smith said the city's other community areas, which have experienced the violence that Hyde Park did, are looking to the neighborhood now.
"There has to be a tipping point. It can't be what happened yesterday. It should have been years ago, decades ago," he said. "At some point, the leadership of our city, alongside with the citizens of our city, have to take into account that we have to be here the following day. Every time something like this happens in Chicago, there's outrage, there are great words, there are press conferences — and then it's over. We go back to work, we go back to school, we do what we have to do to keep moving."
"Our neighbors are ready, and this will not be our epitaph," he said. "What happened in this community yesterday is horrible, but as long as it's happening here and other places, we have to be willing to fix it. The people, the citizens of the greatest city in the world, are going to fix this."
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle referenced her decades-long residence in Hyde Park in a Wednesday statement.
“Yesterday, Hyde Park experienced brazen acts of gun violence in broad daylight," she said. "But from University Village, Burnside, Bronzeville and West Englewood to Belmont Central, South Austin, Little Village, Back of the Yards, East Garfield Park and more, roughly 50 shootings terrorized neighborhoods this past weekend alone."
She pointed out that the more than 950 homicides in the county are nearly 100 more than occurred at this point last year, asked when enough is enough and called for "an immediate and urgent response to the violence as well as a long-term plan to address those root causes of violence."
"More important, our residents need to see a transparent demonstration of leadership across all levels of government working together at the same table with a shared goal, shared plan and shared accountability," Preckwinkle said, promising her own outreach to relevant anti-gun violence stakeholders. "History will judge each of us on what we are doing today to stop the violence and bloodshed."