CHICAGO — Police began shutting down four buildings at the notorious Cabrini-Green public housing project Tuesday and boosting security at other buildings, but some residents viewed it as just another crackdown.
"Six months from now everything is going to come back," said Eddie Leason, 38.
He watched police search the 10- and 19-story towers and carpenters construct entryways at other buildings that will house armed guards and metal detectors. Police plan to sweep all of the Cabrini high-rises for drugs and weapons, limit access to the buildings at entries and exits and require identification cards for entry.
Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered the crackdown in response to the shooting last week of 7-year-old Dantrell Davis, who was killed by a sniper as his mother walked him to school in the complex. A man has been charged in the slaying. The four high-vacancy buildings being emptied and sealed include the one from which the shot was fired.
Whether the defenses hold or not, they already have reinforced Cabrini's image as perhaps the most violent, crime-infested 70 acres in the country.
Chicago Housing Authority Chairman Vincent Lane blames persistent problems at the 3,600-unit complex on the high-rise design that packs nearly 7,000 people into 33 buildings, making it Chicago's second-largest public housing project.
"We have got to change the fundamental flaw that stacks poor people on top of poor people," Lane said. He favors razing the four buildings being vacated and sealed, and "selective demolition" at other high-rise projects.
Lane's suggestion was the most significant thing said at Monday's news conference to announce the crackdown, said Ed Marciniak, president of Loyola University's Institute of Urban Life in Chicago.
In high-rise housing projects, "you're concentrating poverty and misery, drugs, alcoholism, people with mental disabilities and people unemployable," Marciniak said. "It leads to hopeless and hapless people who can be very easily victimized."
Beset by crime and a bloody gang war in the 1970s and early '80s, Cabrini became nationally known in 1981 when then-Mayor Jane M. Byrne moved into the complex for three weeks. When she returned to her Gold Coast home, she declared that crime at the project "is almost zilch."
Gang cross-fire killed a 9-year-old girl in 1985, bringing fresh security measures, but the violence continued.