VALLEY OF THE SHADOW: Town Without Pity II

deeneythumbnail.jpgBY JEFF DEENEY The memorial standing at the intersection of Green Street and McIlvain on Chester’s Eastside was erected to commemorate the anniversary of 19 year old John Strand’s death. Strand was shot in the chest after a street corner confrontation in the early evening of August the 7th, 2007 and died on the sidewalk as paramedics attempted to resuscitate him. I found Strand’s memorial while en route to the site of another homicide that just happened two blocks away. A piece of white poster board including loving messages from Strand’s mother, brother and other friends and family was propped against the wall behind the pile of stuffed animals left in his memory. Court records show that Strand was twice convicted on drugs charges, once for guns and once for resisting arrest in his short adult life.

It’s obvious that the blocks surrounding the corner where Strand was killed are hot drug territory; the area is pocked with abandoned houses ripe for squatters, and a lot of the nearby boarded up facades are tagged with graffiti by neighborhood drug crews. While I photographed Strand’s memorial a new model blue compact Subaru circled slowly, its driver scanning nearby stoops and porches for signs of life. The car stopped halfway down the block, as if the driver were waiting for someone to emerge from one of the abandoned homes. At that point I headed back to my car, not wanting risk a confrontation should the neighborhood drug boys see me hanging around with a camera while they did their business. When nobody came to the curb to serve him the buyer drove off, taking a slow turn around the corner. I had a feeling he was going to circle the block again so I stayed in my car and scribbled some notes while waiting to see what happened next.

A minute later the same car pulled up beside mine. Behind the wheel was a young Italian looking kid with dark spiky hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. He was dressed in business casual, like he was on his way to work. He rolled his passenger’s side window down and shouted over to me,

“Yo, man, you got any ange’?”

He was referring to angel dust. I started to laugh, dumbfounded that someone could be this desperate to get their hands on a bag of dust at 9am on a weekday morning.

“Nah, man,” I called back, “I don’t got any ange’.”

He sped away empty handed, obviously frustrated and I got back out of the car to snap more photographs.

Just around the corner from where Strand was killed, near 8th and Caldwell Street, are the remnants of a second dirt-covered and wind-scattered memorial on the porch of an abandoned home.

At first I thought this might be the original memorial erected last year for John Strand but Google Street View shows both Strand’s memorial and this second memorial as they stood in their original states last year. Stumbling across not one but two memorials in the same neighborhood (while en route to a third, unrelated homicide site) sends a clear message about how frequently murder happens here.

Another few houses down from this second memorial are some of the graffiti tags I mentioned earlier, clear territorial markers advertising where users can find the local drug crews. Here we see the “Gwop Boyz” spot (“gwop” is slang for money).

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And another few houses down from that we find the home base for “C-Street Sofa Productions.”

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You’ll notice to the right of the boarded over window advertising the C-Street set there’s a doorway with a single wooden plank nailed over it. The half-full bottle of orange soda sitting inside the doorway is a dead giveaway that the building was recently occupied, and a closer look confirms that it is what looks like a heavily trafficked crackhouse. Readers ask me all the time what crackhouses look like. They look like this.

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Notice that the splintered second story floorboards have broken through the ceiling, which is ready to collapse at any moment. The ground floor is completely obscured by garbage and there’s even a set of crutches that someone left behind laying in the refuse. It’s not exactly the kind of place you’d like to find yourself at three in the morning.

Next week we’ll head to the wild Westside of Chester, where a bloody crime wave left 6 dead and more injured during a single week in August.

PREVIOUSLY: Town Without Pity

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