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Hanover Park residents on how they battle the gang problem
By Elena Ferrarin | Reflejos Staff

Hanover Park resident Carmen Perez holds her daughter Lesly, 7, as she talks about the recent violence in their neighborhood.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

When Carmen Perez moved to Hanover Park from Des Plaines four years ago, there were gang symbols in the basement and a bullet hole in the door. The symbols are gone but the bullet hole remains.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Hanover Park resident Ramona Diaz, 26, runs a strict household, keeping an eye on her younger brother since their mom died. "I don't care if he's 16 or 17, you don't go out when it's dark outside if you are living under my roof," she says.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Fernando Cruz, 18, of Hanover Park, takes a break from playing basketball with his friends to talk about how his older brother was instrumental in keeping him from joining a gang.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Kevin Hernandez, 14, and Steve Moreno, 15, talk about the recent violence in Hanover Park and the recent arrest of one of their classmates, who was charged with murder.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Miguel Rivera, 24 and Maria Garcia, 32, both of Hanover Park talk about moving out of Hanover Park when they get married because of the recent violence.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Hanover Park residents Andre Williams, 19, and friend Cordero Homeman, 21, who just moved from Chicago, say the gang problem was much worse there. They suggested police put cameras in bad areas like they have on the streets of Chicago.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/14/2009 12:00 AM

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One might say that Carmen Perez's home in Hanover Park is in the eye of the cyclone.

In the last three months, two stabbings and a shooting, all gang-related, took place within two blocks of the house. Last weekend, a woman was killed in what police say was a domestic dispute less than three blocks away.

"I don't know what's happening, but it's scary," said Perez, 42, a native of Mexico and a stay-at-home mom.

When she and her husband moved from Des Plaines four years ago, they knew there might be occasional unsavory characters in the area.

For one, gang symbols had been spray-painted all over the basement of their new home, and the front door still sports what her neighbors said was a bullet hole, she said.

But the neighborhood was fairly quiet until recently, Perez said.

Since last November, there have been 12 violent crimes - ­­five of them since May 5 - in Hanover Park, and residents are on edge.

Yet despite the fear, residents offer myriad suggestions about how to stem the violence and keep their families safe, from a teen's recommendation that gang prevention programs start in middle school, to a woman's rule that if you're a teen you just don't go out at night, period.

Most said that "tough love" and making family come first are the best, and possibly only, lines of defense against the plague of gangs.

Perez said all she can do is be vigilant for potential trouble for her children, a 7-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy.

"Parents are the first school," she said. "We have to teach them right, and we have to try to keep them safe."

Keeping a close eye on children is crucial, said 61-year-old Alejandro Vidal, a retired factory worker and Mexican native who moved to Hanover Park in 1993. He and his late wife raised seven children, the youngest of whom is now 16 years old.

"When we got here, there were only two or three Mexican families," he said of his neighborhood. "Now there are a lot more, and there are a lot of gangs. It has really changed."

His daughter, Ramona Diaz, 26, said the new residents include both immigrants and second- and third-generation Latinos. What matters is not where you're from, but how closely you monitor your children, she said.

"After my mother died, I was the one who raised my younger brother and I was always overprotective," she said. "When he was 12 or 13, I didn't let him ride his bike to the gas station. And I don't care if he's 16 or 17, you don't go out when it's dark outside if you are living under my roof."

Hugo Gonzalez, 16, an upcoming senior at Bartlett High School, said more and more kids profess to be part of gangs. Even though not all of them might be bona fide gang members, fights and violence ensue nonetheless, he said.

High school officials try to address the gang problem with methods like prohibiting students from wearing certain colors, but doing gang prevention work with high-schoolers is almost useless, Gonzalez said. By then, they are either already entrenched in the gang life or have decided to stay out of it.

"You have to get at the kids when they're younger, in middle school. That's when parents need to do something about it," said Gonzalez, who said he has never been involved with gangs.

Some kids learn by example, like 18-year-old Fernando Cruz, who just graduated from Bartlett High School.

He said his brother, a former gang member, forced him to stay on the right track.

"He was in a gang in high school, and he told me to stay out of it," he said. "It was basically 'tough love.'"

Steve Moreno, 15, and friend Kevin Hernandez, 14, said kids join gangs to feel protected by something akin to a second family.

Moreno, the son of Colombian immigrants, and Hernandez, whose parents are from Mexico, said they have always stayed out of trouble because their parents impose strict rules.

Both are upcoming sophomores at Bartlett High School, where Moreno said he had a few classes with 16-year-old Jahaziel Duron, who last weekend was charged with first-degree murder in the June 6 fatal stabbing of Diontae Roberts.

"There are a couple of gang members at school, but we don't know a lot," Moreno said.

Both Hernandez and Moreno said they always had strict curfews, about 4 p.m. when they were younger, and now 10 p.m. But these days they try to stay off the streets after dark because they don't feel safe.

"I think it's pathetic that you have to be worried about another human being killing you," Hernandez said.

As bad as things may seem to Hanover Park residents, they aren't nearly as dire as on the West and South sides of Chicago, according to friends Andre Williams, 19, and Cordero Homeman, 21, who said they moved to Hanover Park to get away from the city's violence.

Despite the latest rash of crime - and occasional taunts from gang members - both say life in Hanover Park is relatively quiet compared to where they grew up.

So what can be done to stop the escalation of violence in a suburban community?

The police could install anti-crime cameras like the ones mounted on lamp posts at street corners throughout Chicago's roughest neighborhoods, Williams said.

Most importantly, however, adults have to step up and make sure they keep their children sheltered from the pressure of gangs, Homeman said.

"It's on the parents. They have to make sure their kids don't get into bad stuff," he said.

Some people, though, are so uneasy that they have decided to move out of Hanover Park altogether.

Maria Garcia, 32, and her fiance, Miguel Rivera, 24, plan to look for a house in South Elgin and move when they get married.

Hanover Park used to be a family friendly suburb, said Garcia, a bank branch manager who said she had met Norma Favela, a Mexican native who was beaten to death in what police say was a domestic dispute on June 4.

"The area is changing, especially in the last year or two," said Garcia, who grew up in the village. "Before, it was nicer, everything was quiet. But now the demographic has changed. We don't want to live here anymore."

Rivera, a printing company mechanic, said that in high school he resisted repeated pressure, even threats, to join gangs.

"It was just not my thing," he said.

But while he had the support of a two-parent home, and siblings and friends who stayed on the right track, other kids, especially those who came from broken homes, heeded the pressure, Rivera said.

His fiancee said she believes there is little the police can do to uproot the gang problem.

"I don't see the police really helping, even if they try. When people see the police approaching, they see it like, 'We're law enforcement, we are out to get you,'" Garcia said. "I think maybe it's up to the parents. But also, you can't keep hold of your kids 24/7. It's tough."

Despite all the violence around her, Carmen Perez said she and her family haven't considered moving. Perez plans to continue living her quiet life, mostly divided between home and attending services at her neighborhood's Catholic church, St. Ansgar, and she hopes things will get better soon.

"For now, we're staying here," she said. "I pray to God that there is a solution."

Family: Residents know not to go out in darkness