Surge of brutal robberies has Bucktown neighbors demanding action: ‘It feels like we are under attack’

By Chicago 9 Min Read

A vicious attack in Bucktown this week prompted community residents on Wednesday to demand that more be done to protect them from a spike in robberies. 

Bucktown Community Organization board member Steve Jensen was “shocked and horrified of the blatant brutality” he saw in a video of a daytime robbery on Monday near Damen Avenue. 

“I felt sick to my stomach and terrorized,” Jensen told the Sun-Times. “I can only imagine how the victim felt. And I’m shocked and disgusted that this continues citywide, with no answers, explanations or solutions from City Hall and our state legislature.”

According to police, a 33-year-old man was walking in an alley near the 2000 block of North Damen just before 3 p.m. Monday when two other men approached him from behind, beat him and took his belongings before fleeing southbound on foot. 

Video published by CWB shows the victim with what appears to be a slice of pizza before one of the attackers runs over and punches him from behind, throwing him to the ground where he and the other assailant continue to punch and kick him. 

The 33-year-old, who did not respond to requests for comment, fought back and could be heard screaming during the attack, which lasts for about a minute before the pair grab his backpack and walk away. 

Jensen said state officials have to enact tougher punishments for individuals charged with violent crimes. 

Monday’s Bucktown attack comes amid a surge in robberies across the city. Reports of robberies are up about 24% compared to this time last year, according to Chicago Police Department data. 

In what appears to be the sharpest rise, in the Grand Central Police District, which encompasses the Belmont Cragin and Hermosa neighborhoods, there have been 514 robberies reported so far this year, compared to 237 at the same point last year, a more than 115% surge.

Robberies are also up 13% this year in the Near North District, which includes a large portion of Lincoln Park, data shows. That increase jumps to 34% when compared to 2021.

In the Shakespeare Police District, where Monday’s attack occurred, 379 robberies have been reported so far this year compared to 248 at the same time last year — a 53% increase. Additionally, robberies in the Shakespeare District, which includes the Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods and parts of Logan Square, are 93% higher than in 2019.

A police vehicle sits outside the Holstein Park Field house in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood.

Police said there would be an increased police presence in Bucktown this weekend in response to the uptick in robberies. Citywide reports of robberies are up about 24% compared to this time last year, according to Chicago Police Department data.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Concerned residents packed the auditorium at the Holstein Park field house Wednesday evening in Bucktown to hear from beat officers and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) about what steps are being taken to keep the neighborhood safe. 

“It feels like we are under attack,” one woman said during the community beat meeting. 

Sgt. Michael Edens said there would be an increased police presence in the area this weekend in response to the uptick in robberies. 

But for residents such as Jordan Litwin, who said he’s lived in Bucktown for about 15 years, those efforts are a little too late. 

“I’ve completely given up on Bucktown, I’m moving to either the suburbs or further north,” Litwin said, adding that it seemed like the police department “has no plan” to immediately address the robberies. “I don’t think they understand how upset and frustrated people are.” 

Other residents at the meeting asked why officers weren’t chasing suspects, why the police department doesn’t have more helicopters to help catch offenders, why more officers aren’t being hired and what community members can do to feel safe in their neighborhood.

One resident asked whether the National Guard can step in for a couple of months.

Edens explained that officers do chase suspects, but the department has to consider the potential danger that a high-speed chase poses to bystanders, noting that the city of Chicago has paid exorbitant amounts to settle injury or death cases stemming from police chases. 

“It is not as simple as just go and chase, you have to do a balancing test, and it’s not easy,” Waguespack said.

Edens said the department is increasingly using technology such as license plate readers and surveillance cameras, as well as cooperating with Illinois State Police to help track down suspects. 

Edens also shed a little light on the recent robberies, saying the suspects are mostly targeting men and are after cash. The suspects usually ditch wallets and phones a couple of blocks away after committing a robbery, he said.

The sergeant also advised residents who find themselves the target of an attack to give the robbers what they want, and not risk being physically harmed. 

He added that the recent broad daylight robbery Monday was unusually violent. “It was just a vicious attack,” Edens said. 

A man named Chris G., who attended the meeting with his wife, Alyssa, had hoped to hear more “actionable” responses from the alderman and police officers. 

“It seemed like a lot of generalizations to a specific problem, they talked about what they are doing but a lot of it didn’t seem like it’s enough,” said Chris, who asked that the couple’s last name not be published for safety concerns. 

He said they had lived in the area for about 12 years, and it seemed like there’s been a “significant uptick” in robberies. 

“I wrote down on a piece of paper that if I had the chance to speak today, should I say I’m concerned about walking back or walking to this meeting; that’s so weird to even think that that’s a problem,” Chris said. “I can’t say that I’ve had that concern in the past 12 years until the last few months.” 

Alyssa said she was glad so many people turned up for the meeting. 

“I was excited to see that the the community cared, and that the community is still strong,” she said. 

Robbery victimizations are still not as high as they were between 2000 and 2013, but the number of complaints is at a six-year high, according to analysis from WBEZ.

Loyola University of Chicago criminal justice professor Arthur Lurigio told WBEZ that the fact the number of incidents is surpassing prepandemic levels is an indicator of COVID-19’s long-lasting economic effects on some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.

“I also see robberies moving out of typical high-crime neighborhoods of the city, perhaps because there are not as many fruitful targets for armed robbery in those areas, and moving into areas where armed robbery is going to be more lucrative,” Lurigio told WBEZ.

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