If only something good could come from the murder of Demario Bailey, the 15-year-old boy shot under a viaduct in Englewood this month, something that could save the lives of other children.
A simple place to begin: Clean up and reclaim Chicago’s dirty, creepy and dangerous railroad viaducts.
Most Chicagoans, especially those on the South and West Sides, can rattle off the location of a feared viaduct. It’s the one that they sprinted through as a kid, or the one they rush through now on high alert.
Demario died under one of those viaducts, a long, dark and dirty passageway that makes for easy cover for the criminals who mugged and shot him. Its block-long length isn’t something that can be easily fixed, unfortunately.
But that viaducts and others like it can be claimed by the good guys. As Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell pointed out this week, a Chicago nurse has launched an online petition and campaign to demand routine maintenance of these often filthy viaducts by the city and the railroads that own most of them. Michelle Fennessy kicked off her campaign at www.chicagoviaduct.com before Demario was killed, but his murder has added even greater urgency.
After all, Demario wasn’t the first such victim. One of the best known viaduct cases was the 2010 beating of Irish exchange student Natasha McShane in Bucktown. That viaduct is now part of The 606 walking and bike trail, which opens later this year.
Fennessy is urging the good guys to do their part: call 311 when see lights out, no lights or garbage; get your community organized to host clean up days or viaduct inspections.
But Fennessy is tapping into a larger problem — a failure to keep up these viaducts so that they don’t become community eyesores and havens for criminals.
Chicago’s railway viaducts, nearly 900 of them, are owned by railroad companies, which are in charge of their structural health. But the city is responsible for lighting and general upkeep (litter, graffiti, street cleaning), the stuff most of us care about.
Fennessy and her supporters want the city to routinely maintain the viaducts, not just when someone calls 311 to complain. Better lighting also is a must. The city says it sweeps the streets, responds to 311 complaints, does “as needed” work identified by city ward superintendents and removes graffiti and hand cleans viaducts as requested.
It’s something, but clearly not enough.
A cursory glance around Chicago tells us that these eyesores — these menacing tunnels — should be on the city’s radar each and every day.