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Englewood residents say downtown looting should not tarnish their neighborhood. ‘I don’t believe it’s fair.’

Joyce Brown had just left the University of Chicago Medical Center, joyful her grandson would recover from being shot, when she heard about the looting downtown early Monday.

“We saw it on the news and I said, ‘What are they looting for?’ " said Brown, 65. It didn’t take long to figure out.

Her 20-year-old grandson Latrell Allen had been shot several times by police a day earlier after allegedly pointing a gun at officers near his home in Englewood. “I said to my husband, Jimmie, ‘I believe they did the looting because of what happened to Latrell.”

While the family has doubts about the police version of the shooting, Brown said she cannot condone the looting that left 13 police officers injured, two people shot, more than 100 arrested and stores up and down the Magnificent Mile trashed — and once again cast a harsh light on a South Side community that has been making gains in its struggles against poverty and violence.

"I don't agree with the looting because that's just an excuse to get what they want," Brown said. "That was wrong about the looting, but the same way they feel about looting, I feel about our grandson."

Latricsa Allen reacts as she finds her son's shoes in the vacant lot where she and neighbor Tenisha Caldwell, left, believe the 20-year-old man was shot by Chicago police, Aug. 10, 2020.

Latricsa Allen reacts as she finds her son's shoes in the vacant lot where she and neighbor Tenisha Caldwell, left, believe the 20-year-old man was shot by Chicago police, Aug. 10, 2020. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

While long-simmering distrust of police and growing tensions from the pandemic may have helped fueled the looting, Brown insisted “it’s still no excuse.”

The alderman who represents Englewood fears its residents will now be unfairly tarnished as looters.

“We have so many good people, so many wonderful people in this neighborhood, and we just hope that all that energy gets recognized,” said Ald. Stephanie Coleman, 16th. “I don’t know how that narrative (about the looting) started. It’s an easy assumption to make, but when you start making those connections, you have to be really careful because that’s reflecting on the people in this neighborhood. And in this case, I don’t believe it’s fair.”

Chicago police say social media posts in the hours after Allen was shot urged people to go out and loot. But they have not produced the posts or said how they know they were in response to Allen’s shooting.

What is certain, however, is that the shooting of Allen led to tense moments that stretched into Sunday night.

An officer with a rifle walks past residents at the scene of a police-involved shooting near the 5700 block of South Racine Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood on Aug. 9, 2020, in Chicago.

An officer with a rifle walks past residents at the scene of a police-involved shooting near the 5700 block of South Racine Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood on Aug. 9, 2020, in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

Officers, called about a man with a gun, spotted Allen near Moran Park in the 5700 block of South Racine Avenue around 2:30 p.m. The officers approached the man, who matched a description, but he ran off, police said.

As he ran toward his home, police say Allen turned and fired at the officers, who returned fire and hit him five times. Officials said a gun was found at the scene. A crowd gathered as a story circulated on the block that police had shot a 15-year-old. Extra officers were called in to form a line around investigators.

By 5:30 p.m., the outer edge of streets near the crime scene were filled with cars trying to find ways to get around the large police response that included uniformed and SWAT officers and a police command van. The streets were full of adults, young and old, though hardly any children were walking about. Some families watched the scene from the safe distance of their own front yards.

It was hot, so hot and humid that many of the young men listening to music through loudspeakers at Moran Park had shed their T-shirts. There was a scuffle with police, and one officer was hit with pepper spray and a second suffered a minor shoulder injury. A police car window was shattered by a brick, and officers cordoned off streets in nearly every direction until the crowd cooled off.

Officers stand near crime scene tape after an argument erupted between police and residents at the scene of a police-involved shooting near the 5700 block of South Racine Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood on Aug. 9, 2020, in Chicago.

Officers stand near crime scene tape after an argument erupted between police and residents at the scene of a police-involved shooting near the 5700 block of South Racine Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood on Aug. 9, 2020, in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

In front of a liquor store at 57th and Racine, the regulars — mostly older men — excitedly chatted about the day’s events. At the edge of police tape on Aberdeen, where dozens of uniformed cops stood at attention, two elderly women stood waiting for some news.

"This is ridiculous, this going on in our neighborhood," one gray-haired woman said aloud. The woman next to her appeared to be livestreaming the scene.

Stories continued swirling among the crowd: Police had shot a teenager and it was captured on cellphone video, but officers had taken it away. As the sun set, one of the men who appeared to be agitating the crowd began yelling expletives and taunts. Even hours after the shooting, residents circled the most active blocks looking for details about the child who had been shot.

The neighbors’ doubts continued Monday even as Mayor Lori Lightfoot decried the “abject criminal behavior, pure and simple” of looters that was somehow connected to their community.

Tenisha Caldwell repeated those doubts as she talked to Allen’s mother, Latricsa, outside her Aberdeen Street home Monday afternoon.

Caldwell said she watched from her front porch as an officer fired at Allen. She told Latricsa Allen that her son tried to give up before he was shot. Allen said her son told her from his hospital bed that he didn’t have a gun, though police posted a photo of a gun they said they found at the scene.

Latricsa Allen stands Aug. 10, 2020, in the vacant lot where she believes her 20-year-old son was shot by Chicago police.

Latricsa Allen stands Aug. 10, 2020, in the vacant lot where she believes her 20-year-old son was shot by Chicago police. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

The family home sits in what residents call a rough pocket of Englewood that can quickly go from quiet to loud. The area between Morgan and Racine is largely black, but has a number of Hispanic and white residents living on blocks that mix well-kept single-family homes with boarded-up structures and vacant lots.

On Monday, the block where the shooting occurred was mostly quiet, a day after a crush of police officers and vehicles descended on the neighborhood while news helicopters hovered overhead.

Allen said her sons adopted dangerous friends after moving to Englewood years ago.

“When they got here, they had to run with a rougher crowd,” she said. “We in Englewood. … They can’t be no punks. If they was, they was gonna get beat up every day.”

She admitted that her eldest son, the father of a young daughter, posted photos on social media posing with guns, but insisted it was just posturing.

“He’s a good guy, he’s a charmer,” Allen said, laughing. “I always told him, ‘You’re going to be a lawyer because you’re always going to get your point across. He was always very smart. When I was in school, he was helping me with my calculus homework.”

Rami Nashashibi sees hope in Englewood, despite the events of the last few days.

He’s executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, an organization that helped create the “Green on Racine” development, which is aiming to transform the corner of 63rd and Racine by adding a Fresh Market cooperative, mixed-used housing and business incubator — and converting a vacant school into a recycling enterprise.

The goal of “Go Green on Racine” is to add permanent living-wage jobs as well as training and certification for young people and those returning from prison. Centered at an intersection that connects the east and west parts of Englewood, the project is being built around the reopening of the Racine Green-Line station.

“That is the Englewood we see,” Nashashibi said. “And it is beyond tragic that when we see these incidents happen … the people, the community gets conflated with the most unfortunately destructive responses to collective pain and outrage, rather than be associated with the good people who are working every day to radically reimagine what is possible.”

For decades, activists and residents in Englewood have worked to improve the neighborhood and reduce violence, only to see it spring back as it has this summer, a stark reminder that solutions to Chicago’s entrenched gun violence require deep and sustained investment to address decades of racist policies in Chicago’s South and West sides.

Asiaha Butler, a longtime Englewood resident, has been at the forefront of this effort, including as executive director of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood. Over the weekend, she and other Englewood residents and arts organizations went to a shuttered business and turned it into a pop-up arts event for the entire community.

On social media, organizers described turning the longtime vacant store into a place of “beauty, visual healing & envisioning.”

Butler, reached Monday, said she believes the standoff with police that happened after the shooting provided “just another opportunity for folks to take advantage.”

She is not sure that all the looters were from Englewood and, like Nashashibi, said there is a lot of good happening in the neighborhood. “It is really disheartening if this is being blamed on a whole community that has fought so hard for justice and peace,” Butler said.

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