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The View From Englewood, Ill.: A Community In Crisis

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Peoria, Ill. This is the first stop in an election series we're calling The View From Here. And I'm here in a bookstore with Pastor Adrian Garcia from the First United Methodist Church in Peoria. Good morning to you, pastor.

ADRIAN GARCIA: Good morning.

GREENE: So you do a lot of outreach to what is a rapidly growing Latino population here in the city of Peoria. And I just wonder if we could start with me asking you what headline - four or five words - would capture what has happened in the neighborhoods you serve over the last year or so?

GARCIA: I think there's a - the increase of violence and shooting in our neighborhood, especially among teenagers

GREENE: And that gives you a sense of what you're dealing with and confronting, and I want to hear much more about that. And it relates to the place we're about to hear from. You know, I want to listen to this with you - some voices. I went earlier this week to Englewood. It's a neighborhood of Chicago. And the headline often used there is that the community has one of the highest murder rates in the city of Chicago. And the way police in Chicago confront this kind of crime has been really controversial. There was the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times as he was walking away from a police officer. There were a lot of headlines about that. And when we were in Englewood this week, we went to the Seventh Police District headquarters, and I met a veteran police officer named Angela Wormley. She's trying to build bridges with this community that is very wary of the police. She's been coaching youth baseball, which she says has been working to a point.

ANGELA WORMLEY: Well, unfortunately, in general, the children still respect police, as much as people say they don't. They do. They get excited about the police. The problem comes in because if they have family members who've had negative interactions with the police, they pushed their ideals onto these kids. And the kids kind of go with that.

GREENE: And for Officer Wormley, allegations and protests against police wrongdoings in Chicago - they miss the point.

WORMLEY: There's a lot that goes into the dynamics of what's going on in the city of Chicago. And it's not about bad policing. It's about getting some standards and some ethics and some morals; getting some order among the people; getting some respect among themselves so they don't think it's OK to just go get a gun and shoot each other, and they don't think that that's the first option that they have.

GREENE: Now, after leaving from the police precinct and hearing from this officer, I took a drive with Asiaha Butler. She runs an organization that is called Resident Association of Greater Englewood. The acronym is RAGE, but she doesn't seem all that angry.

ASIAHA BUTLER: This is how I look at things. You look down this block, and it's this beautiful pink tree, right? Like, that's, like, what I see in my neighborhood.

GREENE: Pretty flowers - yeah, it's beautiful

BUTLER: Everything goes, and, like, it's things like that that just pop up that I see.

GREENE: That's so interesting because a lot of people would look down that block and they would see, like, empty lots - blight. And you're looking at...

BUTLER: ...This beautiful pink tree just, you know, there.

GREENE: It was a beautiful pink tree. And that - you know, she knows the reality. There's so much need in her community, and she feels the government has failed Englewood for years. And the only person who's talking about the dramatic change that's needed to bring neighborhoods back, she says, is Bernie Sanders.

BUTLER: He gets it. Like, he gets that it's systematic racism in America. Like, a lot of folks don't want to admit that - a lot of my colleagues, people I know. And although he's a white guy, I think he gets it.

GREENE: Now, the frustration also was coming to a boil when we went to Dream Cafe. It's an Englewood eatery with damn good catfish and collard greens, I have to say. Jermont Montgomery was sitting to my left. His braids were tumbling down over his gray sweatshirt. He's 39 years old, and he says he was like many young black men growing up in Englewood.

JERMONT MONTGOMERY: I found myself in trouble, but I still had a community that still loved me and knew that the potential in me was much more than the negative things that I was participating in.

GREENE: What was a low point?

MONTGOMERY: A low point - probably when I was incarcerated

GREENE: How old were you?

MONTGOMERY: I was 18.

GREENE: And what happened?

MONTGOMERY: I was participating in the narcotics trade.

GREENE: Jermont Montgomery says the time he spent in prison - it made this presidential election really personal.

MONTGOMERY: I personally would not vote for Hillary Clinton, period. That's it.

GREENE: Why not?

MONTGOMERY: The prison-industrial complex boom occurred under her husband's leadership. She was a major proponent of it.

GREENE: This is incarcerating...

MONTGOMERY: ...Incarcerating many, many particularly African-Americans under the three-strike laws, the drug laws.

GREENE: Were you incarcerated during Bill Clinton's...

MONTGOMERY: Yes, I was.

GREENE: So you feel part of it.

MONTGOMERY: Yeah - I fell victim to that. And you know that - you know, just the whole system - you know, I'm a youth, nonviolent. I got a $50,000 bond and someone that looks like you got out on his own reconnaissance.

GREENE: So looks like me meaning white.

MONTGOMERY: Exactly.

GREENE: Now, we should say Hillary Clinton won more votes in Englewood neighborhood in Chicago in the recent primary in Illinois. Still, that really gives us a feel for the frustration people have in neighborhoods that haven't seen progress. And I want to bring back another voice - it's Pastor Adrian Garcia from the First United Methodist Church here in Peoria. And Pastor Garcia, what are your neighborhoods like? Is it similar to what we're hearing from sort of the frustration in what's seen as a violent place like Englewood?

GARCIA: I believe there is a lot of frustration among our families. And you can see, because they are so broken, and families are not - sounds like happy, you know? They are fighting against all these systems and trying to get some resources to their own homes. And they cannot find it.

GREENE: If people are fighting for resources and feel that the government is not delivering, what do you tell people to do with that anger and frustration?

GARCIA: Well, as a church we offer many programs that we try to strengthen our families. One of them is, like, a soccer ministry during the summer for kids, and all the family comes together in downtown. We try to mentor during the school days - trying to help them in their location. And of course, we increase their faith - you know, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. But it sounds like it's not enough. There is so much stuff happening in their homes that we try to help, but it's a lot of it.

GREENE: Just about 15 seconds left - is there faith in the government to help?

GARCIA: I don't think they have faith in the government. I think they don't trust a lot in them. They hear a lot of promises, but I don't think they got a lot from that area.

GREENE: OK, that's pastor Adrian Garcia from the First United Methodist Church here in Peoria, Ill. Pastor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning. We appreciate it.

GARCIA: You're welcome.

GREENE: And much more from our series this morning - we're hosting the program from I Know You Like a Book, a bookstore in Peoria, Ill., as part of our series, The View From Here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.