Ald. Ray Lopez of the 15th Ward says he has no regrets about the controversial remarks he made following a shooting that left two dead and eight injured in his southwest side ward.
“What I said was that I am thankful tonight that no innocent lives were lost,” he recalled in a recent interview. The comments brought a quick rebuke from family members of those who were shot. Asked if the remarks now seem callous, Lopez replied, “that is exactly how I felt then and it’s how I continue to feel.”
The 15th Ward is home to Brighton Park, Gage Park, West Englewood and the Back of the Yards, a section of the ward Lopez calls the “ground zero of the cancer of violence.”
At the intersection of 43rd and Ashland on May 2, two plainclothes Chicago police officers survived being shot by what was described as a military style rifle.
“It’s like the gang super highway right here,” he said.
Five days later, a mass shooting---again with rifles---killed two and injured eight in Brighton Park. The alderman walked to the crime scene from his house and made the remarks about no innocent lives lost.
Within days Chicago police officers were assigned for protection following credible threats. “It was something the police felt they needed to act upon,” he said. “We are also dealing with individuals who have no compunction about showing to a location with an AK-47, unloading 20-30 rounds in less than a minute, it was something the police felt they needed to act upon.”
Ray Lopez arrived at City Hall following a dozen years as a Skycap for Southwest Airlines. The 39-year old politician, who grew up in the Back of the Yards, has made both political friends and enemies.
When asked about a solution to the continuing violence, he replied, “I don’t think there’s one single solution.”
He cites poverty and joblessness as pervasive issues,
but quickly adds: “The violence in our community and the people who are perpetrating the violence have to be addressed head on. And we’ve started doing that.”
But a drive through his ward finds some answers, including one that began prior to his election as alderman.
“I Grow Chicago was founded,” he said, “as a way to break the cycle of violence and poverty in Englewood.”
On what was once, he says, an extremely violent block, raspberries, basil and flowers now grow.
The four-year old project, he said, has been able to bring a sense of safety and sensibility to this part of West Englewood. “Before they arrived and opened up what they call the Peace Campus, the Peace House, that was one of my wards most dangerous blocks. It had a constant gang warfare going on like we see in other areas,” he said.
But for every new hope, there is also a terrible reality, the abrupt cycle of life in one of the killing zones of Chicago.
“One of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve ever seen in my public life when I one time asked a group of 5th graders what they wanted to be when they grew up. Over half the room just said they wanted to be alive,” he recalled. “It speaks to the impact that this violence is having in our communities on our children who don’t see hope for themselves, don’t see a future for themselves, don’t even see a life for themselves because they are terrified of being struck down.”