By Marci Ponce and Valeria Fridegotto
On a visit to Wicker Park on March 29, Johanna Felton parked along the side of the store Round Two on North Milwaukee Avenue.
Around 10 p.m., she decided to leave and noticed that her car lights were on. Thinking it was a mistake, she opened her door just to find a mess inside the car as someone had broken in.
She thought she was safe as she paid for the spot. However, she still dealt with the repercussions of this incident. She chose not to file a police report.
Felton said she feels unsafe now and takes the train to the city from the suburbs. While this is inconvenient, she says she fears for the safety of her car.
“I hate the train,” she said. “I feel unsafe there too. The commodity of driving my car is something I miss every day, but I am far too traumatized to bring myself to drive downtown again.”
Felton is one of many victims of vandalism in Chicago, a trend that has been increasing since the start of the pandemic.
According to 2020 Chicago crime statistics, for every 100,000 people, 3,926 have committed a crime. That’s 67% higher than the national average, with violent crimes playing a large role in those numbers.
Although this statistic includes all crimes that have been reported throughout 2020, property damage was the leading crime with 80,742 cases reported. That means for every 100,000 people, 2,983 were reported for property damage charges.
Vandalism is characterized as the intentional destruction of property with malicious intent. Acts of vandalism include behavior such as breaking windows, graffiti, slashing tires, and destruction of public or private property. Vandalism is a malicious act that reflects a person’s recklessness and demonstrates their intent and malice.
Chicago faced many hardships with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses were forced to shut their doors. It took a toll on the education system as well, as classes moved online.
More carjackings were reported as well, there were 603 carjackings in 2019 compared to 1,415 in a 2020 analysis of police data. Acts of vandalism also caused a spiraling effect on the lower class citizens, who are struggling to provide for themselves and their families, they are just looking for a way to survive, experts say.
Rahim Kurwa, a UIC assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice and Department of Sociology, does research at the intersection of race, policing and residential segregation.
“Catching people for stealing the basic ingredients, subsidizing, keeping your infant alive if you had one, right, we have to get to a point in our society, we’ll look at that picture and understand what that’s really a picture of, which is a picture of an indication of the severe economic need in our society,” Kurwa said
With fewer after-school programs and not many jobs available, citizens in the lower class found themselves stealing necessities and causing property damage in hopes of sustaining or making a profit.
Cicero resident Tanya Chanprung saw men break into her car on a sunny March afternoon in 2021.
She parked in her usual parking spot. She liked that parking spot because she could see her car from her apartment on the third floor of her building. She could keep an eye on it, regardless of how unsafe her neighborhood is.
She went upstairs, organized her groceries, and put a TV show on. While having dinner, she looked out the window and she saw a group of men approaching the area where her car was parked. She was a little skeptical, but it did not concern her.
After a couple of minutes, she realized that the group of men would not move away from her car. She called her boyfriend. Five minutes later, she heard a loud noise and she looked out the window once again. On the phone with her boyfriend, she yelled, ‘they just broke my car’s window!’. Her boyfriend, on the other line, urged her to call the police.
Chanprung was scared. She watched her car get broken into as it was happening. There was nothing she could do but wait for the police. She feared it would be too late by the time they arrived. She heard the sirens. She did not know at the moment whether or not it was the police attending her situation, but hoped so and prayed they were here. She wanted to scream out of her window. She felt helpless.
After the police arrived at the scene, Chanprung felt safe enough to walk up to her car. The police were searching around the area, but it was too late to do anything. Fortunately, none of her belongings were stolen. The police claimed that the group of men were probably intending to steal her car.
Chanprung drove to the police station with her boyfriend and filed a police report. To this day, nothing has been done about the incident. Fortunately, Tanya’s insurance covered the damage. A year later, Tanya pays monthly to park her car at a parking tower less than a mile away from her apartment. She has considered moving out of the area for safety purposes.
“The wait was killing me,” Chanprung said. The risks of parking in the city of Chicago caught up to her. Nothing has been done about the incident, leading Champrung to wonder if she would have gotten help if something worse happened.
Kurwa said, “in Chicago, you know, when crime goes up, we hire more police. When crime goes down, we hire more police, right when we really need money to fix other problems. We don’t have it, but we will always have money to increase the number of police officers. Right. Chicago has more police officers per citizen than any other city in the country. Right? And what do we have to show for it?”