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On July 4, shortly before 7 p.m., 19-year-old Leslie Calvin, Jr. was shot to death in a maroon minivan on Ridge Avenue near Hull Terrace. On July 6, the Chicago Sun-Times published a 249-word article headlined “Notorious Evanston man slain,” that included comments by Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, about Mr. Calvin. These two events caused anger, outrage, fear, grief, and concern among the south Evanston community and has caused or perhaps revealed a division into two camps.
Of the first event, the brutal murder of Mr. Calvin, Police Chief Richard Eddington said at a community meeting on July 13, “The community will not tolerate a homicide on Ridge Avenue in broad daylight on a national holiday.” Residents reacted with sometimes competing emotions, from the grief and sympathy of those who knew and loved Mr. Calvin and his family to the fear and anger of those living nearby who said they cannot stand such violence in the neighborhood where they live and work and young children walk to and from school.
The second event, the newspaper article, appeared in print July 6 and focused on Mr. Calvin’s criminal background. The article quoted Ald. Rainey as saying, “It was not a random shooting” because of Mr. Calvin’s criminal history. The article further quoted an e-mail Ald. Rainey had written to Chief Eddington more than two months earlier that said, “This individual has terrorized the south end of town since he was a kid. Now he appears to be on the road to, one day, getting away with murder.”
At 249 words, the article drove a wedge between competing emotions in the community – sympathy for the family and concern about neighborhood violence – and seemed to have had the effect of splitting south Evanston in two. Focusing on the violence itself, safety in the community, getting guns, drugs and gangs out of Evanston and the inevitable consequences of the gang lifestyle, some residents wanted to know the reason Mr. Calvin was shot, in part so they could determine whether they or their children were at risk. Many said they felt it was important to understand the genesis of the murder. A random shooting on Ridge Avenue and an outburst of gang-related violence would evoke different set of reactions and fears, they said.
Others at the meeting focused on what they termed the “insensitivity” shown toward Mr. Calvin’s family and friends in the face of such tragedy. Regardless of the activities in which Mr. Calvin engaged that contributed to his death – activities that all in the community acknowledged to be dangerous and wrong – Mr. Calvin, they said, was a child of Evanston. They noted that he lived his entire life in a stable home on Callan Avenue and was sincerely loved by countless friends and family. Many felt that more sensitivity should have been shown in the media and on various internet message boards.
The rift was already growing by the July 12 City Council meeting, when Bennett Johnson, former president of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP and publisher of the Evanston Sentinel, asked Ald. Rainey to apologize for her statements.
At that meeting, Mr. Johnson cited the Sun-Times article and said that Ald. Rainey had likened Mr. Calvin to “vermin, trash, rubbish, something that should be thrown away.” Mr. Johnson also said, “Admittedly, he was a problem, but he was not a domestic terrorist” Public comments such as those in the article “ignore the pain and suffering of the mother” and other family members, he said.
Evanston activist Bette Ester also said she felt that the comments were insensitive. “We could not help [Mr. Calvin] when he was alive, we’re sure not going to help him when he’s gone.”
“I will absolutely apologize to nobody,” replied Ald. Rainey. “The time has come when the criminals and gangsters in this community need to apologize to everybody else.” She said that she stuck by every word she said, but “I absolutely never said anyone was a domestic terrorist, trash, vermin or any of those other things.” The impact of gangs and drugs and guns on the community, she said, needed to be addressed.
Mr. Calvin’s action endangered Evanston’s citizens and the police, Ald. Rainey said. Just a couple of month earlier, Mr. Calvin fired a gun across Howard Avenue in a shootout with rivals in the middle of the afternoon, she said, adding that passengers, pedestrians, and drivers on Howard Street could have easily been caught in the crossfire.
After the July 12 City Council meeting Ald. Rainey told reporters that saying someone “terrorized a community,” as she had in her e-mail, is not the same as calling someone a “terrorist.”
Tensions continued into the July 13 meeting, as some residents focused on the perceived insensitivity of the media and the alderman while focused on the fact that the killing was drug- and gang-related.
After Chief Eddington’s July 13 report on the status of the police investigation, one resident, said she had known Mr. Calvin (known as Junior) since he was a boy and that she understood that he “lived by the sword and died by the sword.” While she said she had recently told Mr. Calvin that he would not be here much longer if he did not change his ways, it did not mean the community was better off without him. “A mother has lost her little boy,” she added. Family, friends, and the community saw Junior as more than just a gangster. Saying that Ald. Rainey should have shown more sensitivity toward the Calvin family, she and two others then stood and left the room. One said, as she left, “When can we vote?” echoing sentiments seeking Ald. Rainey’s ouster posted many times over on a Facebook page set up in Mr. Calvin’s memory.
Callan Avenue resident David Mench said, “Junior was my neighbor for all his 19 years. There shouldn’t be publicity in the newspapers [such as “Notorious man slain]. It is a sad and tragic thing.” The human tragedy and the loss of a lifelong neighbor should be the story, not gang affiliations and arrest numbers, he said.
Eighth Ward resident Victor Boyd said “a lot of people in the community are angry” over what they read in the newspapers. “What I know is that a 19 year old baby died on the 4th of July a block and a half [from] my front door,” he said. The article, and some comments that appeared on Ald. Rainey’s website message board, “caused a divide in the community,” he said. Mr. Calvin was a part of the community, and “a little bit of me died out there. … Shot down like a dog.”
One meeting participant was particularly experienced in the media’s reaction to tragedy.
Chicago Police Officer McKenna, who lost a father to violent crime, said, “My father was murdered on Madison Street in 2006,” he said, and newspaper articles at the time called him a “shyster lawyer. … You can’t change what’s written,” he said, adding that what gets published is out of the community’s immediate control.
Ald. Rainey said that she had nothing to do with the headline written for the Sun-Times article, and that no one she knew wished Mr. Calvin dead. But she refused to back down from her conviction that the community needed to know that the shooting was drug and gang related. The community needed to know what caused the violence in order to respond effectively to it, she said. “The problem is that the facts of Leslie Calvin’s life are important,” she said.
Noting the absence of any mention of the shooters, Ald. Rainey said, “Who is asking, who is reaching out and asking for the murderer to come forward? … We have to stop the violence, the gunfire, the gangs and drugs on our streets… It is time to find the killer… time to stop apologizing for a life of crime,” she said. She said that she had been attacked in comments but called on the community to stop focusing on a newspaper article and start focusing on finding the killer and creating a safer community. “All I’ve heard is ‘that terrible newspaper article,’” the alderman said.
The discussion then shifted away from the crime itself to the underlying causes and systemic issues that lead the community’s youth to “take the easy way out” and engage in criminal activity. The problem, said Lonnie Wilson, is larger than Mr. Calvin. “We don’t make guns; we don’t pipe in dope,” he said. Citing shortcomings with Evanston’s schools and a cut back in community services, he and others decried a community of “haves” and “have-nots.”
The “haves” in the community “hide behind white picket fences,” Mr. Wilson said, while the problems in the community continue to grow. The problem, he said, stems from a continuing history of racism going back hundreds of years.
“I’m not hiding,” responded Ald. Rainey. “I called this meeting.” She then cited the work done by Brummell Street neighbors. “They aren’t hiding, either. They are out there on the street.” Mr. Calvin’s case does not fit neatly within the “have” and “have not” dynamic, she added. He grew up in a stable home with lovely parents, friends and family. He went to Bessie Rhodes magnet school and Evanston Township High School. Nevertheless, he turned to the drug, gang and gun lifestyle that ultimately resulted in his death, Ald. Rainey said.
Brummel Park Neighbors
Michele Hays, president of the Brummell Park Neighbors, spoke about her all-volunteer organization’s efforts. “We are working hard to bring services to south Evanston,” she said. A youth job fair held at the Howard Street police outpost allowed south Evanston youth a chance at jobs without having to wait at the Civic Center, and several members of the “troubled group” participated, she said. Citizens walk the street every night she said, then called on everyone to volunteer. “We could use more help – we are running low on volunteers,” Ms. Hayes said.
Julie Fleetwood, president of the Oakton School PTA, likewise called for volunteers. The PTA is trying to get parents more involved in student life in an effort to solve problems before they start.
Residents who left the meeting may have felt no closer to a resolution. Meanwhile, the murderer remains at large.
Police Summarize Investigation Into Shooting DeathDuring a community meeting on July 13 at the Howard Street police outpost, Police Chief Richard Eddington delivered an update on the investigation of the July 4 shooting death of Leslie Calvin, Jr. The crime, said Chief Eddington, grew out of a dispute between rival gangs that arose after Mr. Calvin, a member of a south Evanston gang, decided to sell drugs in the Juneway area of Chicago on another gang’s turf.
The Chief began by apologizing to friends and family of Mr. Calvin, admitting that he was speaking in a rather clinical tone. “”For me, this is a business issue, but that is not to diminish the pain the family feels,”” he said.
The Chief said the crime on Ridge Avenue was a story “”about gangs and drugs, a recurring theme in urban America.”” He described the victim as having an “”extensive record with police departments in the area [including] 31 arrests as a juvenile and adult, five convictions for burglary. Those are the facts. His record does nothing to retard our zeal to solve this case.””
Chief Eddington said that Mr. Calvin was a member of a south Evanston gang who “”decided it was an economic opportunity to sell drugs”” in the Juneway area. The decision led to an attempt by a “”person of interest”” in the case to stab Mr. Calvin, said the Chief. Later, Mr. Calvin struck the Person of Interest with the van in which he was later murdered, the Chief added.
In the late afternoon of July 4, Mr. Calvin drove around the Triangle Park in the Juneway area. The Person of Interest saw him, and along with three associates jumped in a dark blue VW Jetta to follow Mr. Calvin. They caught up with him on Ridge Avenue and a confrontation resulted. One person jumped out of the Jetta, shot Mr. Calvin repeatedly, then jumped back in the Jetta which sped away, said Chief Eddington.
Mr. Calvin had at least nine entry wounds and had been shot from very close range, the Chief said. He described the scene as very violent. In the van, police found “”several significant pieces of evidence”” including evidence of drug sales, said the Chief.
Chief Eddington stressed his position as a law enforcement professional, but at the same time expressed sympathy for friends and family of Mr. Calvin. He indicated that the police continued to investigate, and urged any citizen with any information, no matter how irrelevant it might seem, to call the police as soon as possible. No arrests have been made as of presstime.