Rape of high school student along 'Safe Passage' route enflames anger on Northwest Side

Chicago Public Schools officials haven't found the dollars to relieve overcrowding on the city's vast and growing Northwest Side, and they continue to promote the expansion of charter schools in communities that have decisively rejected them, but they continue to claim that closing schools and shuffling kids around is OK as long as CPS has a policy in place called "Safe Passage." Well, it didn't work that way for one 15-year-old high school girl the same week the Board of Education met. She was raped on the way to school during the dark early morning hours, a danger that parents and others had warned the Board against when tens of thousands protested against the massive school closings pushed by schools "Chief Executive Office" Barbara Byrd Bennet a year ago.

Part of the crowd at the community meeting demanding answers about the "Belmont Cragin Morning Rape". Substance photo by Jean Schwab.The girl was dragged into a yard, beaten and raped on her way to school.

And a community meeting showed another outrage for a part of the city's that has been almost unanimous in its opposition to several policies of the Emanuel administration and its school board over the past year or two.

Residents of the Belmont � Cragin community say they are fed up with the violence in their neighborhood, and they are demanding action. The residents say they are traumatized by the brutal, sexual assault of a teen girl Tuesday, December 17, 2013, the day before the meeting of the Chicago Board of Education.

Police say the attack was at 6:00 am, about 30 minutes before the Safe Passage Route workers began patrolling Fullerton Avenue near Long Street. The girl was on her way to catch a bus to go to high school, which officials have failed to identify. The identity of the victim has also been kept a secret.

One of the most powerful and consistent voices for the city's real public schools comes from Alderman Nick Sposato, above. Speaking to the community meeting, he told the audience that the police, like the teachers, had seen their ranks cut by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Substance photo by Jean Schwab.James Rudyk, director of the Northwest Side Housing Center, in the 5300 block of West Diversey, stated, �There were 20 violent crimes reported in the community between November 7 and December 7, including three sexual assaults between Cicero and Austin. We need extra police around neighboring schools and Hanson Park.� The area includes several public schools, including Prosser High School (currently under attack by a new charter school proposed for a block from Prosser) and the massive Hanson Park Stadium.

A major meeting meeting, organized by the Northwest Side Housing Center, and others, drew around 200 members of the community, elected officials, and representatives of the Chicago Public Schools. As usual, CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett refused to attend the meeting.

Chicago Police Supt. Gerry McCarthy assured the community that the police are actively involved in solving this crime. McCarthy, along with other police officials, urged people to speak up if they have information, "no matter how small," that might help solve this crime. Also present were 25th District Police Commander Navarro, State Representative Luis Arroyo, State Representative Toni Berrios, Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th ward), Alderman Ray Suarez (31) who is also the Vice Mayor, and Alderman Nicholas Sposato (Ward 36).

Alderman Reboyras encouraged the community to "get up if they hear a noise," find out what is happening, and call the police. �Get involved, pick up the phone and call the police. Talk to the neighbors and get involved," he said.

Alderman Nicholas Sposato said he does not blame the police and has attended CAP meetings. Like McCarthy, he said he urges everyone to get involved. Sposato, who has also criticized CPS for stripping schools of resources, said he feels that the local police commander doesn�t have the resources he needs.

�We need to tell people that we need more police officers,� Sposato stated.

Community residents offered a variety of comments about why the problems have been growing. One of the reasons came from people stating that some people are "illegal" and afraid of the police. Others said they are afraid of speaking out for fear of the gangs. Gang activity in the area has been growing, many residents have been noting.

Others stated concerns about the "Safe Passage" route and police.

In rapid fire, residents talks about what they saw and experienced. "I�m tired of this shit. I didn�t find out about this from the media, I looked out the window. I live around the corner from the police. I call and they spend a half hour to get there. Why do we need cameras to give tickets? We need cameras around the schools to protect our children. Safe Passage Routes don�t come until 6:45 am. High school students leave home at 5:30..."

The powerful statements poured out. Either the residents did not say their names, or I did not hear them.

Jadine Chou, above, is the "Chief Officer for Security and Safety" for Chicago Public Schools. Like other appointees since the beginning of the administration of Rahm Emaneul, Chou has been slowly decimating the ranks of veteran security staff at CPS and replacing them with privatized underpaid volunteers, like the "Safe Passage" people. Chou spoke to the community meeting, promised to be back for another meeting on January 24, and refused to return phone calls from Substance reporter Jean Schwab. Substance photo by Jean Schwab. One resident said she has been victimized four times but there was no police follow-up.

Commander Navarro stated that the case load for policemen is heavy and the resident should call area north with report number and the name of the detective assigned to a case. Navarro stated that there are "a lot of burglaries" in this city right now.

Another resident stated that there are a lot of police around the high schools, but no officers at Hanson Park. There is gang activity at Hanson Park, she said at the meeting, and she would like to be able to take children to the park.

A resident stated that the police are not the problem. �It�s our mayor�s problem. He needs to get more police on the streets," was a common refrain. During the same week, Rahm Emanuel was using taxpayer money to host media events and send out press releases about how many new "educational" programs he was setting up in the parks. Residents laugh at those claims when most of the afternoons and evenings the parks are taken over by the gangs and there are not enough police to stop their activity.

Liz Kirk has lived in the neighborhood for ten years and is against the proposal for a charter school on Grand Ave. across from Proccer High School. The Chicago Board of Education is planning to approve another "campus" of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which routinely kicks out the students who have "failed" so it can continue to promote itself as a successful school. Where do the students kicked out by Noble Street wind up? In the city's real high schools.

"That would put 900 kids on that corner," she said. "The traffic on that corner is already tied up,� She said C.K. Johnson sends her son to Lane Tech and used to live in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood.

�There are no lights in the parking lot at Lane Tech at 6:00 am in the morning. The students come home from Lane Tech at 6:00 pm. It is dark. Our children need to be protected. Our children need to be safe. I don�t blame the police, I blame CPS -- Safe Passage is a joke."

But CPS officials won't answer specific questions about "Safe Passage." Jadine Chou (the CPS Security Chief, who has no police experience, but was give the job by Rahm's Board when it took office in 2011) promised to come back to the community on Jan. 25, 2014, at 10:00 am, when the community will meet again. She refused to talk with Substance on the night of the meeting and did not return phone calls from this reporter.