White Lakeview Residents Turn Out in Droves to Claim Their Territory

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last night, approximately 600 people packed the auditorium of the Inter-American primary school in Lakeview for the  monthly CAPS meeting. This particular meeting focused on a handful of instances of violence in the neighborhood in the past few months. The audience was comprised primarily of cis-gender white men (I’d say at least 75%), and the atmosphere was charged and unsettling. The organizers of the meeting handed out fliers at the start of the event that proclaimed, “Diversity is Welcome, Crime is Not.”

Bigotry made its appearance with the first speaker, who took it upon himself to read the audience the definition of a gang. After doing so, he insisted that youth (i.e.  youth of color) on the streets of Lakeview are members of gangs that are attempting to intimidate and terrorize (parenthetically: white) residents. After the close of his long-winded and offensive rant, a police officer called for speeches that were briefer. To this I responded, “And less racist!”

As soon as I spoke, I realized that I was surrounded by a sea of white gay men who were clearly on the ‘other side’ of the issue. About a dozen men (seriously) immediately began slinging insults and demands at me like, ‘You’re just uneducated!’, ‘Shut your Mouth!’, and ‘You’re the problem!’ As they yelled and shook their programs in my face, I turned around to catch the man screeching from behind me on camera. When he saw my camera, he slapped my arm and grabbed my wrist in an attempt to knock my camera to the ground. I have since been informed that this man’s name is Mark Nagel, and that he is farily well-known in the gay community. Nagel, along with other residents, was clearly extremely defensive and poised to attack anyone who suggested that race was a central part of their concerns.

The more that white residents insisted, time and again, that this issue was NOT about race, the more they seemed out of touch and frankly, racist. One after another approached the microphone and spoke about how dangerous the neighborhood has become and how more police are needed on their streets. Many also posed calls to action for community members to fill the gaps that police can’t. These requests for action were extremely troubling, and seemed to be an invitation for white residents to use violence against youth of color if ‘necessary’.

Most of the comments made by residents involved the assumption that the police are effective at creating safe neighborhoods or that the law addresses everyone in an equal and just way. This is clearly not the case. The police have historically targeted people of color, queers, trans folks, the poor and homeless, and many other groups, and people of color are vastly overrepresented in prisons across the country. More policing is not the answer and vigilantism is even more dangerous.

Those on the side of racial and class justice also addressed the crowd, some telling their personal stories of struggle and describing what the neighborhood has meant for them as an identity-affirming space. Some addressed the need for resources, support and safe spaces for queer youth on the south and west sides, some spoke about the lack of shelter or supportive housing for homeless youth, and some discussed issues of race and class explicitly. Many of these speakers were articulate and genuine, and brave enough to share deeply personal experiences of hardship and homelessness. Instead of receiving respect for their openness, residents shouted things like, ‘Get a job!’ or ‘That’s not our problem!’ This lack of compassion and understanding was the most painful and disappointing part of the meeting for me.

As I mentioned when I addressed the group, what youth and the folks who Lakeview residents call ‘criminals’  need are meaningful structural interventions that begin to address violence and discrimination. The issues of homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse are not all about ‘individual behavioral problems’ as someone suggested, but are the result of institutional violence and profound inequality in access to many resources including healthcare, housing, education, and employment. If the residents of Lakeview  want to stop violence in the neighborhood, (which is notably one of the lowest-crime areas in the city) they should get involved in creating positive change, and should join the struggles against racism and classism.

This meeting barely scraped the surface of the issues that underly the ‘wave of violence’ in Lakeview. I believe that there were people who came to the meeting genuinely wanting to engage and work toward solutions, but the meeting and its tone did not welcome productive conversation or strategizing. It is my hope that  the folks interested in finding meaningful solutions to issues of homeless and violence in Lakeview stay engaged. I also hope that the next meeting is better organized (say, with an agenda perhaps) and controlled to create a safe and respectful space.

  1. justin hayford says:

    Thanks for this. I feel I may be the only gay, white, property-owning, male Lakeview resident who shares your point of view.

    • Hi Justin,

      Thanks for checking out the article, and I’m happy to hear that you’re supportive as a Lakeview resident.

      I think there are others who share your view, but they might have been intimidated by the energy of the meeting, or simply uncomfortable speaking up in that environment. Hopefully we as a community will have further opportunities to engage in more productive dialogue. Have you heard anything on this issue from your neighbors?

  2. Kp says:

    its either you are on one side of the fence or the other. sorry but the youth weren’t sitting there being all polite and mild mannered. Maybe the reason us residents (and im not a white gay male) are being defensive is because us resisdents are the ones being attacked.

    • Hi,

      I didn’t claim that all of the youth were polite. Just to be clear though, I heard far more violent language from the ‘other side’. It’s inaccurate and inflammatory to state that the residents generally are being attacked. The statistics provided by the CPD show that violent crime in Lakeview is FAR lower than in many neighborhoods in Chicago. It’s all a matter of who is being attacked. When it’s low-income folks on the south and west sides, no one pays any heed, but when wealthy white folks on the north side are uncomfortable, it’s an outrage.

      To me, the way that some residents behaved was unforgivable, and the fact that most of them wouldn’t even acknowledge that race plays a role in all of this is deeply problematic and keeps us from reaching real solutions.

  3. David Perry says:

    Reading this reminds me why I stopped going up to Lakeview and supporting businesses up there as well.

  4. carol says:

    I read your article. I’m interested in these ‘meetings’. They seem so ridiculous to me, I work on the southside and live in boystown. Boystown is crazy safe compared to most of the rest of the city. One of my friends said that even if these guys are gay at the end of the day they are still just rich white men. I used to work security and still have an intimidating appearance. No one has the right to grab your wrist like that. If you are going to another event and need someone with you to ensure you won’t be attacked like that I am more than willing to help out. Keep reporting on this stuff.

    • Carol,

      Thanks so much for your kind offer. You should come to the next meeting; we need more representation on the side of justice!

      You are absolutely right about the levels of violence outside of Lakeview. Some of these folks just refuse to see beyond their polished doorstep, which they don’t want polluted by queer homeless youth. I will be posting updates as the situation unfolds. Thanks again!

  5. staci says:

    Excellent piece. I’m glad you were able to speak, even if so many in the room were determined not to hear your voice.

    • Thanks Staci! I think residents will have no choice but to hear our voices, and consider our arguments when thinking about solutions to the perceived problem. See you at the next meeting!

  6. Travis says:

    Cassandra, although I don’t agree with everything you say, I’m more interested in learning about possible solutions to stopping violence from your perspective than resorting to defensive arguments. Let’s open a constructive dialogue, shall we?

    You mention a few suggestions for stepping in and making a positive difference, such as “meaningful structural interventions that begin to address violence and discrimination,” “get[ting] involved in creating positive change,” and “join[ing] the struggles against racism and classism.”

    Can you please expound on these suggestions by providing specific examples? I think if people are specifically shown how they can make an impact, instead of merely being given rather abstract instructions, they are more likely to get involved. I know volunteering at various community centers would likely be part of creating a positive change, but I’d like to hear your ideas.

    It appears to me that at least some of your proposed suggestions are geared more towards the long-term. I agree that long-term solutions to stopping violence are very important, and they should be thoroughly discussed and implemented.

    However, long-term solutions won’t stop the crime that’s happening today. Do you have any suggestions for the short-term? If so, please share your ideas along with some specific examples. Thanks.

    • Hi Travis,

      Thanks your comment. A response about solutions to the ‘short-term’ problem would depend on how one defines the problem. My definition would likely be different than yours. I do not agree that Lakeview is a ‘danger zone’ as one man stated, and I do not feel that it’s possible, in the short-term, to eliminate all instances of violence in any neighborhood. To me the problem is more about how crime in the neighborhood is talked about by (largely white) residents and the media. The “Take Back…’ group has been fairly explicit in its targeting of people of color and the homeless, and it often seems that it is the mere presence of these folks that makes some residents feel uncomfortable. It’s important to analyze exactly why we feel afraid. I feel uncomfortable in Lakeview for far different reasons – drunken, straight white males who behave aggressively and among whom the perpetration of sexual assault is not uncommon.

      With all that said, I think that there are many ways that folks can get involved and become a part of the solution, which I feel starts with authentically reaching out to folks across socioeconomic, generational, and racial lines.

      I also feel strongly that an essential part of being a proponent of justice involves educating oneself on issues of race, class and gender oppression. We can’t fully understand the issues with policing and crime without understanding the systemic problems that exist in society, and the depth of the inequality experienced by many.

      To increase understanding, community members could come out to meetings – groups like Join the Impact Chicago hold educational meetings each month on a variety of issues that affect the queer community, including racism and sexism. This would not only provide information to folks, but also get different segments of our community engaging with one another, which I think would be extremely valuable.

      Also, folks can get involved in any number of grassroots organizations that engaged in solidarity work with organizations that fight against racism, sexism, homophobia and other violence. Of course, volunteering is great, but not only in Lakeview. Programs across the city need support and leadership. Which brings me to another element we desperately need – leadership in the queer community that is unifying. I heard the Center on Halsted and The Broadway Youth Center held up numerous times throughout the meeting, but none of the staff spoke or provided insight or suggestions. Notably, our LGBT police liaison also remained silent.

      There are so many possibilities in terms of getting involved, and I’d be happy to speak to you further through another medium if you’re interested. Ultimately though, we do need longer-term solutions. Most changes we are able to make with a program or a neighborhood alliance will leave the larger systems of oppression intact, and thus the same problems will persist in countless locales. My opinion is that we should all come out vigorously against bigotry of any kind and advocate for an end to violence – both personal and institutional.

  7. Dan says:

    Hello Cunt Crusader,

    First and foremost, I’d like to apologize on behalf of the man that knocked the camera out of your hand. Unfortunately, it only takes one negative experience from a big group to put a very negative impression on you for the rest of us.

    I do have a very legitimate question, and I’m not trying to stir up drama, I am looking for an honest opinion: What is your response to the African American gentleman who stood up and said “This isn’t an age issue or a race issue, it is a behavior issue?”

  8. Karari Kue says:

    I totally agree with you! My interpretation of this situation is a lot of the old guard gays (privileged white cis men) are uncomfortable with how Boystown is transforming into Northalsted.

    They liked when the bars and the area catered to them and other affluent white cis men. Now, we have “radicals” (please note my sarcasm) that are asking for inclusion of women, people of color, and trans people in the area. So they fight back.

    “Wave of violence” is an excuse just in the way the “War on Terror” was or “Border security” is. Privileged people will fight tooth and nail to keep said privilege. Never mind that those who have been most affected by “homophobia” (again, note my sarcasm) in Lakeview have been trans women of color. Never mind that youth (who happen to be mostly of color and gender variant/non-conforming) need gender and sexual affirming spaces to gather. It’s “not [their] problem.”

    It’s disgusting to see, especially when we are feed so much bullshit about how the rainbow represents diversity. Sounds like agism, sexism, cissexism, and racism to me.

  9. @ Dan, As a resident of this neighborhood who shares the view point of this blog, the answer to that question about behavior is directly related to what was stated above about fear. I am an African American gay male in my early twenties. I have “natural” hair, and my socioeconomic status is fairly low. On numerous occasions I have seen queer youth of color congregate in and around the Center on Halsted, or in various other areas in the neighborhood, and they are given a wide birth. Many come to this neighborhood to express themselves in ways that they cannot in other parts of the city. These youth are no different.

    The issue of fear comes in when those who are hear(visitors or residents) do not conform to the social norms of those who feel entitled to be here. As someone who has lived in parts of the country that are truly violent and scary, the remedy for this problem is in my view fairly simple. Treat the folks you encounter here with respect and dignity. The aggressive posturing of those we encounter here may well be a result of their fear and need to protect themselves from those who they see as unwelcoming. If one examines their fear, and the reason why their eyes dart to the ground, or why they cross the street, it is possible that they will have a hard time identifying why they felt threatened beyond a vague understanding of “aggressive” interaction. As to the “credentials” of the African American Gentlemen who stood to pose the question. The African American experience is not monolithic. There are many who’s cultural history does not differ greatly from those in residence in this neighborhood. Their lack of feeling of threat at racism or agism does not diminish the claim of those who do feel threatened.

    Behavioral norms are often regulated through city ordinances & law so as to limit the access of certain “undesirables” from one’s public space. The fact that their are members of these groups that conform to these regulations does not make it any less threatening. This argument about behavior is the same one that is used in areas that find homosexuals and trans folks threatening. It is said that we bring an aggressive, sexually deviant, and “unhealthy” lifestyle to a place by virtue of our violation of the cultural norms. Those that conform to such norms by limiting their display of “queerness” to their homes are held up as proof of a lack of homo/trans phobia at work.

  10. Monica says:

    We certainly act rash when we believe that ourselves or our loved ones are in danger. I know it does not excuse it, but perhaps it does explain it a bit. Although now I don’t feel that Boystown expresses the diversity of our community, when I turned 21 that was on the top of my lists to go to meet other Queer people. Nice piece

  11. Nick says:

    Thanks so much for writing this. I think it’s extremely important and significant that you openly addressed the issue of race and racism that’s being (albeit thinly) veiled by the “Take Back Boystown” “movement.”

    @ Travis, your question about “possible solutions to stopping violence from your perspective than resorting to defensive arguments” implies that there is violence to stop. While any aggravated incidents shouldn’t be ignored (by residents, media, police) (as is customary in south and west Chicago), I think that the author makes an excellent point that the structural and institutional presence of racism completely determines interactions and “violence” on a micro-level. The fact that the white male population of Lakeview has the capacity to organize, convene, and dominate at these community meetings with an agenda to “take back” “their” neighborhood should be indicative of their inherent privilege and power,

    Honestly, I am extremely disturbed by the call-to-action for increased police presence, essentially asking them to profile any youth of color. Even more unsettling is the prospect of vigilantism to help “take back the neighborhood.” Thinking about that actually makes me sick.

    I cannot fathom how residents of Lakeview can see organizations like Center on Halstead, Broadyway Youth Center, and the Night Ministry being active in the community, reaching out to LGBTQ, youth, people of color, and other communities and still have the nerve to say “there goes the neighborhood.”

  12. Tony says:

    Thank you for this piece. I am a gay white make property owner (with my partner) and I was actually sitting a few rows ahead of you – and I witnessed the terrible behavior you write about. I share your perspective, and thank you for your efforts and the reasonable posture you took at the meeting and here.

  13. Ray,

    Your classist, self-entitled racism is what is pathetic. Do NOT make assumptions about me, ever. You are completely ignorant and know nothing about my background (which is entirely working class). YOU are the one who can afford to like in a wealthy neighborhood and have the free time to harass young people. Pathetic indeed.

    Your crew of white queens who aggressively ganged up on a 26 year-old woman should all be deeply ashamed. About 30 people saw Mark grab my wrist; his female friend even grabbed him to stop him. My boss was next to me and saw it. I HAVE IT ON FILM. You are clearly allergic to reality, and deeply afraid that people have clearly seen and called out your blatant bigotry. You’re disgusting.

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