It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.
That’s what LaDonna Lane thought when she set out to have her son Brandon McGhee memorialized just steps away from where he was killed in June.
By July, she had approval from the owner of a building near Western and Milwaukee avenues to paint a 10-by-20-foot mural of her son on an outside wall. Ald. Daniel La Spata also was on board, trying to help her complete it by Nov. 15 — the day her son would’ve turned 24.
Months later, she remains tangled in red tape uncertain if the mural will be finished in time.
The issue is the building’s location. McGhee was killed near a CTA Blue Line stop. The elevated tracks loom over the building, at 1912 N. Western Ave., with steel support beams just outside the front door.
The wall where the mural will be painted is behind a fence controlled by the CTA. The transit agency said the fence is there to deter loitering.
“I just want CTA to open the gate and let us do the mural,” Lane said.
“I don’t understand why it is so hard to paint the mural of my son. We aren’t asking to build new train tracks or to paint the mural on a CTA platform. I just want my son to be remembered as the good person he was,” she said. “Maybe they don’t really care, and this is not important to them.”
CTA said it agreed to assist the family by “waiving the normal rights of entry fees.”
But it hasn’t been that easy, La Spata said.
He has been working as a liaison for Lane, the building owner Steve Kopka and the CTA. Last month, they thought the final hurdle was cleared and all La Spata needed to do was buy the $190 permit.
But then at the last minute, the CTA sent an email saying they needed to “take a few steps back” before they could start.
The CTA asked Lane to complete a questionnaire and also obtain insurance with a general liability limit of $2 million that addresses several other issues, including the fact they’d be working within 50 feet of the tracks.
“It’s been one bureaucratic nightmare after another,” La Spata said. “If we were building a house near CTA property, I would totally understand all these roadblocks to protect their infrastructure, but we are talking about a mural here.”
What’s worse, La Spata said, is the CTA hasn’t fully explained all the coverage it requires, though he figures it is sure to be costly and time consuming.
“This insurance, common in the industry, is not only for the protection of CTA and the artist, but also our riders and the general public,” the CTA said in an email.
Kopka said he approved putting the mural on his building because he was moved by Lane’s story.
“I admired [that] she wanted to do something positive in the wake of this tragedy, and I didn’t want to stand in the way,” Kopka said. “I wish [the] CTA would do the same.”
Lane simply wants her son to join the plethora of murals that decorate Logan Square. He deserves this much, she said.
McGee died June 20. It was a Saturday, and McGhee and a teenage friend were on their way to the Puerto Rican Parade festivities in Humboldt Park.
A group approached them, asking about their gang, though neither McGee nor his friend were in a gang. They ran away, but someone in the other group pulled a gun and began firing, a Cook County prosecutor said in June.
McGhee was killed by a bullet in his neck. The teen was struck multiple times but survived.
Kellie Bartoli, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department, said one man has been charged in connection to the shooting; two other suspects remain at large.
“Brandon died right there by the Blue Line,” Lane said. “Right after it happened, myself and Brandon’s friends would visit the site every week to put flowers and candles. Every time we would revisit, we would see the candles broken and flowers stepped on — it was frustrating.”
The mural would be more permanent, cementing McGhee’s life as a caring and humble man who was always there for the people he loved.
“If and when the mural is done, I’m probably going to break down, fall to the ground and cry,” Lane said. “I’m still grieving. He was only 23 years old and my only child, but I feel that it’s important for people to know who Brandon was.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.