I’ve always hated Chicago viaducts.
While there are a few viaducts where the concrete walls are covered with delightful children’s drawings or mosaics, many of the city’s viaducts are dark, disgraceful and dangerous.
Indeed, it is ironic that shortly before Demario Bailey and his twin brother, Demacio, were mugged under a viaduct at 63rd and State Street, a woman from the Pilsen neighborhood started an online petition demanding that the city clean up the viaducts.
In September, Michelle Fennessy, a nurse who has a PhD., posted a petition on Change.org asking Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the BNSF Railways to put together a long-term plan for maintaining the city’s deteriorating viaducts.
Fennessy, who lives in the Pilsen neighborhood, considered the viaduct at 16th and Morgan Street a safety and health issue.
There are 863 railway viaducts that are owned by railroad companies, and 300 viaducts and bridges maintained and owned by the city, according to a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Growing up, we knew that if someone was after us, we had better pray the person didn’t catch us under a viaduct.
Demario, who was days away from his 16th birthday, was fatally shot in the dark tunnel when four teens tried to rob him of his coat as he and his twin were on their way to basketball practice.
Allegedly, the teens had previously robbed other people under the same viaduct. They are charged with murder, armed robbery and attempted robbery, and will be tried as adults.
When something so horrible happens, grieving parents look to make sense of their loss. Many of them, like the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, start anti-violence organizations bearing their child’s name.
Hadiya, 15, was killed in 2013 while standing with friends in Harsh Park, when teens allegedly out to shoot rival gang-members, opened fire.
Her parents, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel Pendleton Sr., started the “Hadiya’s Promise Foundation” and hosted a summit last year on gun violence that the mayor attended.
Demario’s mother has vowed to launch a safe-passage program for other teens by putting together a transport system that would provide the teens rides to extracurricular activities.
“They took one of mine. I’m coming for a thousand one of theirs,” the emotional mom told mourners at her son’s funeral on Saturday.
However, it is unlikely that the city could provide enough cars or volunteers to guarantee teenagers in Englewood safe passage to extracurricular activities for an extended period of time.
Additionally, at a certain point, parents can no longer shelter teenagers from the realities of their environment.
With hundreds of viaducts across the city, the danger these structure pose is a fact of life.
Frankly, I cringe just driving through a viaduct.
Besides the unease of traveling underneath a structure that could be at least 100 years old and not having a clue about its maintenance, viaducts give criminals cover.
But like too many other undesirable conditions, Chicagoans have learned to live with that danger as they travel from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Yet, it is on adults to confront the problems that make the city less safe. Unfortunately, we have failed miserably on that front.
Demario’s death provides an opportunity to raise our voices against the unsafe conditions that led to this teenager’s death.
Go to www.chicagoviaduct.com and sign the petition demanding that viaducts be routinely maintained. Fennessy also is asking that you take “pictures of viaduct conditions near you and post them to Twitter and Instagram@chicagoviaduct.”
You should also bug your alderman.
It is not enough to burn candles, or set up memorials in the wake of these tragedies.
We have to do something.
And this is an action that is long overdue.