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So. Side Shootings: case wide open
by Andrew Davis

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Police are still investigating the New Year's Eve shootings of six males at a South Side party attended by mostly gay Black men.

Two masked individuals armed with semi-automatic weapons kicked open the doors of a home on the 7900 block of South Woodlawn and started shooting up the party. Six people were shot when the gunmen opened fire on about 100 partygoers about 5:30 a.m. The victims were all taken to local hospitals; two had suffered serious injuries.

The police Civil Rights Unit is helping to determine if the shooting was a hate crime, but it has not been classified as such yet. According to reports, neighbors repeatedly called the police concerning problems with the place.

In a statement to Windy City Times sent on Jan. 5, police spokeswoman Monique Bond said that 'the investigation is ongoing. ... Detectives continue to talk to witnesses and victims. At this point in the investigation, we still have no information or evidence to investigate the case as a hate crime. However, [ the ] Civil Rights [ Unit ] is prepared to assist if needed.' She added that five of the victims had been released from area hospitals.

However, a Chicago politician—44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney—may have provided some insight into the case. Tunney told radio station WBBM that he has met with investigators and was told that the shootings possibly started as an argument between partygoers.

He said that ' [ w ] e will continue to work with [ investigators ] and ask them to make sure that they uncover every clue to give full credibility to their investigation and the fact [ is ] that, while it sounds on the surface that it could be a hate crime and potentially somebody out there that could cause further damage, they actually believe it's an isolated incident.'

In a statement issued Jan. 5, Chicago Commission on Human Relations Chairman Clarence N. Wood condemned those who issued homophobic comments to the media. ( The statement specifically cited a Chicago Sun-Times article that quoted a local as saying, 'We always be seeing them, and they always be looking at people ... They give you that gay look, like you're a female or something. That ain't cute. People be ready to fight ... I knew something was going to happen to that house.' ) 'While the police have not yet determined the motive of the shooting, it is extremely disturbing that anyone could believe that the victims somehow deserved to be shot because they were gay or 'acted gay,'' Wood said.

Forum held

On Sat., Jan. 6, a discussion about the shootings was held at Café 917, 917 E. 79th.

The event was attended by approximately 100 people and featured a panel that included 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris, who represents the area where the crime occurred, as well as police representatives. Among the media covering the event was cable news giant CNN.

'The community meeting was extremely well-attended, and it included many concerned citizens,' Bill Greaves of the Advisory Council on GLBT Issues told Windy City Times. 'Everyone clearly and strongly expressed their concerns to the police, the alderman and to each other. It was one of the best meetings—in terms of community turnout and exchange—that I have ever been to.'

Michael O'Connor, who works with Connie Howard ( the state representative of the area that was the site of the crime ) and is a member of the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, said that he was 'so glad to see an organized effort from the African-American GLBT community.' He also said that it was nice to see the younger generation 'stepping up and doing what needed to be done.'

Keith Green of Test Positive Aware Network was also impressed with the turnout. 'I was really glad to see people come out and with the mobilization,' he said to Windy City Times.

Among the items that were discussed was if the shootings were actually a hate crime as well as what constitutes a hate crime. Since investigations are ongoing, no hate-crime determination has been made. 'I was disappointed that there was [ initially ] no clear definition of a hate crime,' Green said. 'However, once there was some idea, it sparked some interested dialogue.'

Attendees also reacted strongly to the level of homophobia that local residents exhibited to the media when interviewed about the shootings. ( During one interview with a local TV station, one person said that the neighborhood is straight and that gays should live in the suburbs. ) In addition, people at the forum talked about the victims themselves, asking about the support or protection they are receiving.

During the forum, several solutions were proposed to counter the problem of anti-gay sentiment, including forming a task force with Harris and having a march on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday to promote awareness.

Another solution that was proposed was having some type of monetary reward for the person who provides important information about the shootings. 'It's only appropriate that people who make a profit from gay and lesbian people to put forth the money for [ a reward ] ,' O'Connor, who made the suggestion, said to Windy City Times. He also suggested that officials from all parts of city come together to raise money for a reward—underscoring the point that, ultimately, the situation that occurred affects everyone.

The fact that Harris showed up was not lost on anyone. 'There were some things the alderman didn't know, but I give her credit for showing up and [ attempting to learn ] ,' said Green.

Tommy Avant Garde of HIV/AIDS service organization Project VIDA said that the forum marked a turning point. 'There was so much [ turnout ] and such a great response, it was overwhelming,' he said to Windy City Times. 'It was a packed house. Everybody spoke very well.'

Avant Garde also mentioned another forum that was held Jan. 8 that was hosted by Project VIDA and which featured CNN talking with one of the shooting victims. Representatives from the Chicago Department of Public Health were present, and Harris was there as well.

Two more forums related to the crime will take place Jan. 18 at 3 and 6 p.m. at Youth Pride Center, 637 S. Dearborn. 'Youths come out at two and three in the morning because they feel they can't be themselves during the day,' Avant Garde said. 'That has to change.'

At a campaign meet and greet on Jan. 6, Mayor Daley was asked about the shootings. Daley said he was not aware of the incident, but that education is the way to counter ignorance about gay people.

What really happened?

There are lingering questions about what exactly transpired the night of Dec. 31. Some have suggested that what happened was a hate crime; however, others have said that the shooters were partygoers themselves who came back to exact revenge after words were exchanged.

Green said that answers can come once the specific circumstances are determined: 'It's too soon to offer solutions because we don't know what exactly happened.' He added, however, that general solutions such as creating safe spaces for LGBT youth are very important.

O'Connor, for one, has heard the ongoing rumors, but suggested that there is something much bigger at stake: 'I've heard the craziness, but the logical response is to try to seek justice.'

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