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The Beauty Behind the Beast

While walking his dog Cheese through the East Garfield Park neighborhood, John Perryman stops to peer over the fence of a boarded up drug house.
While walking his dog Cheese through the East Garfield Park neighborhood, John Perryman stops to peer over the fence of a boarded up drug house.

Since moving to Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood six years ago, John Perryman and his wife, Marissa H. Baker, have been pushing for more police protection against drug dealers.

Until they get it – if they get it – the couple is resorting to methods of their own, building gardens to combat crime.

“It’s easy to rag on it, but the real story is how people are fighting, and it’s much better than this – it really is,” Perryman said.

Perryman said he and his wife love their house not only because of the affordable price they received when they bought it four years ago, but also because it’s a convenient location for both of their commutes. He is a teacher in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, and Baker is a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

However, as Perryman said, “We pay in other ways.”

A month ago Perryman was mugged by about eight alleged drug dealers while walking his dog.

One evening during his daily walk with Cheese, a border collie mix, some drug dealers were “jawing” at him, Perryman said.

He took out his phone and took a picture of them. The dealers, which he has reported to the police multiple times before, followed him. Perryman walked to the local New Greater Exodus Missionary Baptist Church for help. But the dealers caught up with him, jumped him and kicked his dog.

Around the time of Perryman’s attack, the half-mile radius surrounding the church’s location at 2900 W. Adams Street had more than 86 total reported incidents of which about 50 were due to drug abuse and simple battery, according to an analysis of Chicago Police statistics.

Eight dealers may have jumped Perryman, but he said the attack was short because all the neighbors came out to help.

“That’s kind of the silver lining in it, you see people are lookin’ out for ya,” Perryman said.

What may also be alarming is the scene of the mugging happened across the street from a new charter school, on a Safe Passage route, and underneath a police blue light camera.

However, when Perryman filed a police report he was told the attackers were facing away from the camera and couldn’t be identified.

“I think the issue we’ve tried to address is police ineffectiveness in our community,” he said.

This has been the first serious issue Perryman has personally faced, but he doesn’t want to keep sticking his neck out for nothing, or worse, see this violence taken out on anybody else, he said.

“The other problem we have is that the police don’t want to deal with anything ‘til it’s extremely bad,” Perryman said. “Our point in the neighborhood is that we don’t want people to get killed. If people have been killed it’s too late.”

Perryman said they initially attended CAPS meetings on a regular basis to address and get help regarding the excessive drug activity that occurs in their backyard on the corner of West Madison Street and Francisco. But more often than not, they were left with no relief and therefore turned to attending the police board meetings instead.

“The meetings are very effective,” he said. “But, we get frustrated that we have to get 12 people to go downtown and ask for basic services, to take us seriously.”

Perryman is one resident battling against the drug issues in this neighborhood.

Tracelli Rockford, mother and president of the 2900 West Adams Street block club, said the majority of the neighborhood is made up of homeowners that have come together for years to get these houses taken care of.

“We have a really good block,” Rockford said. “When you all the time just having no respect for your neighbors, it’s horrible, it’s horrible.”

Despite their continuous efforts to get the houses put on the drug and gang house list, Perryman said they need to get more resources because the repeated response by the police has been that they can’t do anything about the issues since activity is occurring in the house.

The police excuse seems strange to Perryman because he and other neighbors know exactly who is dealing, where they live and their dealing zones. Not only have they told the police this information, but it is also plain to see which houses are laden with drug activity – they have boarded up windows, local homeless shelter residents and demand for possession police signs.

In attempts to alleviate some of the activity and preserve the historic homes that remain, Perryman and Baker have developed and maintained three garden areas around their West Monroe Street block.

Perryman explained that funding for these gardens was acquired by the Department of Environment’s Green Core program, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel has since cut completely. The program was dependent on how many training classes you attended in order to determine the budget you received for each project.

“This is how we’ve been trying to battle it,” Perryman said. “You turn a negative space into a positive space.”

Even with one of the main gardens being directly across the street from a convenience store that serves as the hangout location for drug dealers, Perryman said the garden have suffered very little damage, but it’s frustrating to know dealing is still happening.

“We just have to fight so hard to keep the drug dealers away,” he said.

But through the garden projects and attending the meetings, Perryman said a strong sense of community has developed to withstand and help rid the neighborhood of its drug issues.

“Not everyone loves my methods or what I do but a lot of people really respect it,” he said. “They know that I’m working hard, Marissa’s working hard, a lot of the neighbors are working hard.”

Although Perryman and his neighbors said they see the lack of leadership amongst the police, their focus is to not on how bad the neighborhood is, but rather the people that they can help and the community they can continue to restore.

Drug dealers “are people though,” Perryman said. “We’ve made this thing where they’re sub-human, but they’re people.”

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