Pilsen residents said they are noticing an uptick in incidents of violent crime taking place in the Lower West Side neighborhood.
Kenia Ballina, a student at Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, has lived in Pilsen for over eight years and she sometimes hears gunshots from the park near her home.
“It’s kind of sad [not being able to go out after dark] because the night is a beautiful place to be to enjoy the wind and the sky,” she said.
Ballina said she is afraid to leave her house after dark, and though she has recently seen more police on patrol, she said they are mostly just writing parking tickets.
In Pilsen recorded 16 violent crimes, including one homicide, from Sept. 3-Oct. 3,
While there are more violent neighborhoods, such as South Side Englewood, which recorded 71 violent crimes and two homicides over the same period, residents said they are very aware of crime in their neighborhood.
“I actually saw some videotape of someone stealing a [spare] tire off our crew member’s car,” said Bruce Strong, who has worked at Cinaspace Chicago Film Studios at 2621 W. 15th Place.
Strong said his co-workers were able to write down the license plate number from the vehicle, but it was a stolen car so the thief has not been found.
One of Strong’s other co-workers was robbed at knife point near the business, but the incident occurred outside the radius of the company’s security system.
“Our studio is pretty well locked down [but] outside of that you’re on your own,” Strong said.
Pilsen, which is bordered by the Chicago River, 16th Street and Damen Avenue, has undergone many changes over the decades.
According to encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org, German and Irish immigrants moved to the area in the 1840s and the area remained predominantly European until after World War I, when labor shortages drew more immigrants into Pilsen.
By the 1950s and 1960s, Mexican migrants dominated the area. This ethnic shift spurred cultural changes in Pilsen, as Mexican artists decorated the neighborhood with colorful murals and mosaics.
While the neighborhood is seeing some gentrification with the arrival of an artistic class, long-time residents are working to preserve the area’s culture. During the first weekend in August, residents celebrate the Fiesta del Sol, while in October they mark Dia de los Muertes and on May 5 they hold the Cinco de Mayo parade on Cermak Avenue.
More important than the neighborhoods culture, however, residents want to see it stay safe.
Some in the area, like Patricia Garrity, who is principal of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, don’t see crime increasing, but rather shifting to areas not used to dealing with it.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen a spike [in crime] as much as it seems to change location,” Garrity said.
Garrity noted much of the crime in the neighborhood occurs at 23rd and Leavitt Street but other pockets of the neighborhood remain safe. To Garrity, the larger issues are that the crime involves guns and those involved are getting younger and younger.
“Unfortunately in a lot of those gang incidents it’s teenagers that are either involved or caught in the crossfire,” Garrity said.
She relies on an off-duty police officer at her school to keep her informed of potential incidents so she can decide whether students should be kept in the building after school.
Garrity was one of a handful of people interviewed Tuesday in an informal street survey about crime in Pilsen. Most of those interviewed agreed there is gang activity and gun violence and said they have to take certain steps to remain safe, such as not going outside at night and avoiding some areas.
The question remains what can be done to eliminate the pockets of crime that are affecting the neighborhood. While many call for more police, Strong doesn’t see that as the answer.
“You can be robbed two blocks down from a police station, and if they don’t see it happening they can’t do anything,” Strong said.
“I don’t blame the police for it. They patrol [and] they do what they can.”