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One man’s life shows Chicago Latinos’ double struggle: COVID-19 and surging gun violence

The Chicago Police Department’s 10th District, which includes Little Village, has seen murders more than double so far this year compared to 2019, while at the same time being hit hard by the pandemic. It’s where Florentino Carranza lived — and died.

Marisol Carranza holds up a photo of her uncle Florentino Carranza, while sitting at Mann Park.
Marisol Carranza holds up a photo of her uncle Florentino Carranza, while sitting at Mann Park, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. Florentino was died on July 4th after complication from when he was shot in Little Village on June 30th.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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Marisol Carranza-Arroyo says her uncle, Florentino Carranza, would buy clothes from thrift shops and fly to his hometown in Mexico during the holidays to donate them to people in need.

He’d also call her every day to check up on her, well aware that in-person visits weren’t wise amid a crush of COVID-19 cases in their neighborhoods — him in Little Village and her on the Far South Side — and because he had underlying health issues.

But on June 30, the call never came.

About 3 p.m. that day, Carranza, 53, was shot multiple times while on a sidewalk in the 4000 block of West 26th Street, in Little Village — a victim of gunfire intended for another man who was standing nearby and was shot and killed, police say.

“I was in shock because he had called me the day before,” Carranza-Arroyo said of her uncle. “Doctors told us that his body had received five bullets.”

After numerous surgeries and some signs that he might pull through, Carranza died July 4 at Mount Sinai Hospital. His body was flown back to his hometown of Tuxpan in Guerrero, Mexico, to be buried.

Carranza’s death is especially tragic because he had been living through what has been a one-two punch for residents of Little Village and other predominantly Latino neighborhoods in Chicago: COVID-19 has been ravaging those areas as gun violence is on the rise.

The federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited a wide range of reasons for coronavirus spikes in Latino neighborhoods both in Chicago and across the country, from income and social inequities that lead to limited to access to health care to the fact that many Latinos have “essential” jobs that require exposure to others, thereby increasing the risk of catching the virus.

At the same time, Chicago is experiencing levels of violence not seen in more than two decades: 524 people had been murdered in the city through Sept. 6, with many of those crimes happening on the South and West sides, including in neighborhoods that are predominantly Latino. Carranza’s murder remains unsolved.

The police department’s Ogden District — District 10, which encompasses Little Village and North Lawndale — had logged 45 murders through Sept. 6 , compared to 21 reported in the same period in 2019, an increase of 114%. Shootings are also up this year, from 106 in 2019 to 176 in 2020, an increase of 66%.

At the same time, the Southwest Side neighborhood is among areas of the city most affected by the coronavirus. The 60623 Zip code, which includes Little Village, had seen 4,247 cases of COVID-19 as of Sept. 9, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, making it the fourth hardest hit Zip code in Chicago.

In nearby Pilsen, in the 12th police district, murders were up slightly from 12 last year to 16 this year, and shootings were up by 59%. The 60608 zip code, which includes the Heart of Chicago and Pilsen, has seen about 2,479 cases of COVID-19.

A little south, in Back of the Yards, in the 9th police district, homicides were up 79%, from 14 last year to 25 this year, and shootings had nearly doubled, to 148 this year from 76 last year. Back of the Yards is in the 60609 zip code, which has seen about 2,413 cases of COVID-19.

Before his death, Carranza, who had underlying health issues, had adjusted his life in Little Village because of COVID-19.

Marisol Carranza holds up a photo of her uncle Florentino Carranza.
Marisol Carranza holds up a photo of her uncle Florentino Carranza.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Carranza-Arroyo, said her uncle wouldn’t let her or anyone else run errands for him because he didn’t want anyone to contract COVID-19.

“‘I know you have doctor’s appointments,’ I told him.’Don’t take the CTA. Call me, I’m working from home. Just call me, I’ll take you to the appointments, don’t expose yourself,’” she said. “He said, ‘No because I’m constantly going inside the clinic in the hospital and if I get infected it’s going to stay in my conscience knowing that I got you or somebody else in the house infected.’”

COVID-19 also made it impossible for Carranza-Arroyo to see her uncle as he lay in a hospital bed recovering from surgeries. She said the only way she could communicate with her uncle was through video calls.

“He couldn’t talk but he was awake,” Carranza-Arroyo said. “I told him ‘tio, don’t worry about your bills, they’re covered, relax. I have your debit cards, I have everything with me, don’t worry yourself.’”

“Losing him was very hard,” she said. “He was always looking out for us.”