A night of blight on Broadway

How sketchy is Uptown these days? The other night, Yo’s truly put that question to a couple of beat cops, officers Dan Kramer and Greg Hunt, who were patrolling Broadway just north of Lawrence on Tuesday night.

Drug dealing is less prolific than it was 10 years ago, although the neighborhood’s high transient population, some of whom are recovering addicts, continues to draw predatory drug dealers from across Chicago, and Uptown has its share of crack houses, the officers said. High-profile arrests of known drug-dealing gang members have weakened the cohesion of local gangs. “Now it’s a kid on a bicycle riding around trying to sell a bag real quick,” Kramer said.

Gangs such as the Black P. Stones and the Gangster Disciples are around, as are sex offenders paroled to neighborhood halfway houses, the officers noted. Overall, the influx of new homeowners and retail have meant that, “property values are high here; it keeps things stable so we don’t have mass migrations in and out,” Hunt said.

He noted that new homeowners pay “God knows how much” in property taxes, to live near facilities for the mentally ill. Kramer said that the new residents know about the neighborhood’s problems, “but things are getting better.”

Flashers following women are a bit of a problem near the Argyle el, Hunt noted. “They’re mental facility goofballs,” he said.

Addressing public nuisance offenses takes up a fair chunk of time, they said. Moments later, as if to prove that point, the harried-looking owner of a small diner on the 4800 block of Broadway darted up and asked the two officers to eject a drunk customer from his restaurant. In less than a minute, nine officers – two in an unmarked police car – arrived at the scene, so apparently it was one of the bigger call-outs of the night. In even tones, the cops suggested that the guy move along and he obliged. Outside, a middle-aged woman wandered up to the posse of police officers and shouted something about “baby killers” before disappearing into the night. The woman, one officer said, was “speaking drunkenese.”

A panhandler named Jim wandered up and gave me his impressions of the neighborhood. The 40-something Jim, who said that he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia after serving in Vietnam, lives at a nearby VA-supported home with his wife and kid. As he stood outside the busy gay sports bar Crew, unsuccessfully soliciting cash from departing patrons, Jim said that he likes the new retail popping up here and there along Broadway. “But they really need a nice shoe store,” he said.

Around 10 pm, as I waited for the 81 bus, a young mom, who was with her toddler and daughter who was about nine, confronted a guy who was in a leather coat, wearing sunglasses. “Why are you staring at my daughter – that’s inappropriate – stop looking at her!” she said.

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