The two-block stretch of State Street between Kinzie and Illinois is unlike any other in River North. The sidewalk, probably older than any living Chicagoan, is cracked, patched, potholed, and inexplicably dives at a sharp angle toward the street.
A liquor store sign, still offering booze and lottery tickets, hangs over a storefront that was long ago boarded up and closed off by a metal gate. But, this being River North, there’s a cherry red Jaguar convertible parked in front of it. With a parking ticket.
Poorly lighted at night, this 700-foot stretch of bar hoppers, drug dealers, and random hustlers will leave even veteran city dwellers with the unmistakable feeling that they’re being sized up.
And it’s been like that for years. Local Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) calls it “The Lawless Zone.”
He says he’s been writing to mayors about the problem — Daley, Rahm, and, now, Lightfoot — for 14 years.
“CPD still won’t dedicate foot patrols there. Sadly, aldermen can only offer advice and request resources,” he said on Twitter Thursday. “The mayor runs CPD.”
Reilly was responding to comments that followed a double shooting earlier in the day at Illinois and State — steps from where two men were savagely beaten and robbed in the middle of the street last weekend while revelers watched and danced nearby.
“I’m not a cop, but this ain’t rocket science: put foot patrols back in River North to get this shit under control,” Reilly said.
The block where the men were beaten has been the scene of two murders since 2016.
Marques Gaines, a 32-year-old River North bartender, was knocked out, robbed, and left lying in the middle of State Street on February 7, 2016. Passersby ignored him, and a taxi ran over his body. Long-time felon Marcus Moore pleaded guilty to the attack. He went to prison and got out within five months.
Two years later, seasoned criminal Gino Bassett followed 55-year-old software executive Miguel “Mike” Beedle into an alley on the 400 block of North State. Moments later, Beedle stumbled back out, clutching his neck, which Bassett had just sliced with a knife. He collapsed and died on the corner of State and Hubbard, perhaps 100 feet from where Gaines was killed.
Bassett recently received a 22-year sentence.
Less than a week before last weekend’s attacks, a River North business owner wrote to CWBChicago, asking us to publish a story about the area’s nighttime problems. We didn’t.
“The madness on the street and open liquor is out of control. The party on the street has scared away customers,” he wrote. “They have taken the street every weekend and turn the street to a block party, drinking in the public way, blocking traffic. We need law and order.”
It’s not clear what, if anything, Chicago police plan to do about the years-long problem zone. The fact that two men were shot on the street days after a viral video exposed the area’s troubles suggests the answer may be, “not much.”
This week, some media reports have indicated that the Cook County Sheriff’s Office would be sending its officers to the area to beef up police presence in response to the latest high-profile incidents.
But the sheriff’s chief of public safety, Leo Schmitz, told us Thursday there’s nothing new happening. His personnel have been working downtown about three days a week for months.
“There’s a high volume of people, and we try to help,” Schmitz said. “The reason this is happening is the sheriff lets us help. He says support [Chicago police] where you can, when you can.”