In North Lawndale, one of city’s most violent neighborhoods, a lot of police stops, a lot of crime, fewer arrests
The number of arrests in its West Side police district has fallen by nearly half from pre-pandemic levels, though the figure remains the highest in the city.
On a sweltering June morning, 64-year-old Walter Primous III held court with a gathering of younger Black men in front of the home where he has lived for 40 years in North Lawndale.
The West Side neighborhood is one of the most violent in the city.
But Primous and a handful of elders on the block have worked with anti-violence groups to create a “peaceable” bubble along this strip of West Grenshaw Avenue. Most days, Primous is out front. On weekends, the group has barbecues in the vacant lot next door.
Police cars regularly cruise the block, Primous says, but their presence isn’t always appreciated. Despite a marked decline in arrests and other police activity citywide, neighborhood residents say they still regularly have to navigate a gantlet of traffic or pedestrian stops that seem to have done little to quell the violence of the past three summers.
“Police have a job to do, but it’s not just their job [to stop crime], and it depends what they do,” Primous says.
Told that, according to Chicago Police Department data, the numbers of arrests, street stops and traffic stops all have dropped dramatically over the past several years, a 42-year-old neighbor is dubious.
“If that is true, they’re still stopping us all the time,” he says. “I don’t trust their numbers. The only thing I’d say they stopped is rolling up on us with a wagon and loading us all in.”
Within the five-block-by-12-block square of the police beat that includes where Primous lives, officers have made 4,999 investigative stops of pedestrians since 2016, according to the city inspector general’s office.
The beat surrounding Wrigley Field, for a comparison, reported fewer than 1,434 stops in that same span.
The number of arrests has fallen by more than half in the police district from pre-pandemic levels, though the figure remains the highest in the city, from nearly 12,000 in 2019 to 5,113 last year.
A few blocks away, in the 3300 block of South Spaulding Avenue, Donameen Jones, 45, says he has seen a pullback by police but that it seemed to have been in place only through the peak of the pandemic and during periods when protests that drew police downtown or to neighborhoods farther south. He says the police have seemed more wary since the national wave of protests against police brutality.
“What changed for them is that body-cam and a lot of stuff that they used to do, they can’t get away with no more,” Jones says. “You see a lot of [officers] quit during the pandemic, after George Floyd, when they started cracking down.”
Jones says he sees the police pull over cars in front of his house almost daily — “Sometimes, the one they’re stopping is me,” he says — and make what he views as indiscriminate stops of people on the street.
He says people in the neighborhood know “who needs to be shook down and who doesn’t,” so he wonders: Why don’t the police?
But often people don’t want to talk to officers, a situation Primous says the police have a lot of work to do to change.
He has covered the windows of his front porch with funeral programs for neighbors who have died, a wallpaper of young Black men, most of them killed in the streets.
Among the faces peering from the faded prayer books is that of 16-year-old Pierre Loury, who was shot by a Chicago police officer about a block from his house in 2016. The officer who shot Loury was cleared of wrongdoing by the department.
On Primous’ block, Loury’s death is regarded as an injustice. Of the half dozen men gathered in the shade on Primous’ sidewalk, all say they remember a formative — and negative — experience with a police officer when they were as young as 9 or 10 years old. One pulls out a phone to play video of police stopping and handcuffing his 10-year-old son in 2018.
Still, Primous feels a police presence can be positive. He remembers how, years ago, officers parked on corners in the neighborhood during a spike in crime.
“So long as they was sitting on their little hot spots, things was peaceable,” he says. “ They just set on the corners for must’ve been six months.”
For Jones, the dismal rate of arrests for shootings and killings compounds the frustration of having to deal with frequent police stops. He wants cops to do more investigative work and target those who actually commit crimes.
“Investigate. Investigate,” Jones says. “Stop riding around in their cars, harassing folks, and do some police work. Use your police tools to solve crimes. Talk to people. You out there wasting our time, our money, and the suspects be on the loose.”