Parents Work to Keep Kids Safe in Chicago's “Danger Zones”

The sun is not even up most days when Corey and Stacey Ellis get their kids, Myles, 6, Marshall, 11, and Marcel, 14 moving out the door.

Corey and Stacey both work full-time jobs, yet they have another full-time task, too. The Ellis’ must carefully script nearly every moment of their kids' days, like a well-orchestrated symphony. Everything is structured, because the boys can’t do the simple things that most kids and parents take for granted.

“I wish they could walk to the store,” said Corey Ellis. “I wish they could walk to White Castle. I wish they could walk to school. That would be nice.”

The Ellis’s live in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood on the South Side. It’s ground-zero in a virtual war-zone of crime that no child should have to navigateand it’s one of the places in Chicago where it’s not safe for a kid to ride a bike, or shoot hoops at the neighborhood park, or even play away from the watchful eyes of a parent. In these neighborhoods, life is lived inside a danger zone and in many ways, Chicago’s violence changes the way a parent raises a child and kids can no longer be kids, NBC5 Investigates has learned.

NBC5 Investigates looked at crime data around the Ellis’ area to get a sense of what it must be like to do some of the basic "kid things" most families take for granted.

We found that within a block of the Ellis’ home, there have been more than fifty incidents of violent crime in the past year, including twelve with guns, thirty-six incidents of assault and battery, and ten armed robberies. There were also four arrests for crack and heroin, and three sex crimes, all within this one block, in one year.

Up the stree, it’s no better:

“You’re taking a chance coming over here,” said Marcel Ellis, describing a popular hoagie shop. “Just to get a sandwich.”

The hoagie shop is along the route Marcel would take - if he were allowed to walk to school.

In fact, NBC5 Investigates found twenty-six armed robberies, and more than two hundred incidents of assault and battery, out of more than three hundred violent crimes in the past year, just along Marcel’s route to school.

Think about that: A violent crime for nearly every day of the year on your child's route to school.

“I don’t know if what happens in impoverished communities is fully understood by the masses,” said Steven Gates, Director, Youth Advocate Program Chicago.

Activist Steven Gates describes these neighborhoods as having invisible boundaries that kids can’t cross -- whether it is from violence, drugs or gangs.

“For me it has a third world country feel, like these kids were living in a war time or a third world country,” he said.

But it’s simply a way of life for many Chicago-area kids, where even the neighborhood playground is off-limits. In fact it was a neighborhood park where one of Marcel’s friends and teammates was gunned down. He wasn’t the intended target.

“It really didn’t hit him at first, but we were driving one day, and he was looking out the window, and he just started crying,” said Stacey Ellis.

But Myles, Marshall, and Marcel don’t want pity. They simply want to be kids.

“I kind of wish I could hang out without my parents worrying about my safety,” said Marcel.

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