CHICAGO (STMW) — Joe Pirelli doesn’t remember much about being attacked on the street in his Near North neighborhood in north suburban Waukegan the night of July 27, but his face bears the testimony — five days after the beating, purple discoloration lingered around his eyes, and separate lines of stitches zigzagged across his forehead.

“Apparently, I was walking home. This is the route I always take,” the 57-year-old said, standing on Ridgeland Avenue and describing the half-mile path to his Stewart Avenue home from the North Avenue Tap. “I’ve done it many, many times before.”

But this time, Pirelli joined five other known victims of strong-armed robberies in the Near North neighborhood since late June, with police saying four of the late-night attacks have taken place over the past two weeks.

“It’s hard to put together,” said Pirelli, “but they took my money, my wallet, everything else.”

Waukegan Police Sgt. Dave DeBaufer said Pirelli’s lack of recall makes it difficult to categorize it as part of the Near North spree, but the five other cases took place within a 10-block radius north of Grand Avenue. He added that while some details vary, in all cases, the suspects were described as a small group of younger African-American males displaying a handgun.

“We’re not sure if we have one or two groups of people doing these because in some cases, the descriptions are the same, and with some they’re not,” DeBaufer said. “We know that we do have at least one group of younger male blacks that are identifying pedestrians (and) robbing them.”

DeBaufer added that all of the attacks took place around or after 11 p.m. In one example, which took place near Jackson and Porter streets, the victim reported the offenders were two male blacks, with one of them displaying a weapon that appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun.

The string of robberies is the latest example of street crime taking place in the Near North neighborhood dating back to late last year, when another wave of armed robberies included the Dec. 29 carjacking and shooting death of Hickory Street resident Carlos Hernandez.

Loretta Pable, who lives two doors down from where Hernandez was abducted on his driveway, addressed the City Council at both its April 16 and June 18 meetings to demand that officials “act boldly to combat crime and blight in this city.”

“In my 18 years as a Waukegan homeowner, I have never been so outraged at the impact of crime and blight on my neighborhood and this city,” she told the council. “In the past two years, my family has been the victim of robbery and vandalism. I have seen drug deals in broad daylight at the corner of Ash and Grand Avenue. My neighbors have been robbed at gunpoint.”

At her June appearance, Pable reported that her minivan had been stolen two weeks earlier from her garage, and “older adults have been thrown down to the pavement and robbed while grocery shopping in broad daylight. … I’ve spent 18 years telling people what a livable community Waukegan is. I can no longer make those statements.”

Contacted Friday, Pable praised her neighbors and the police officers she’s met while dealing with these issues, but she reiterated that the crime sprees have left her disillusioned, especially about what she describes as the lack of resources displayed by the city.

“It’s very disconcerting when you feel like you can’t let your kids go out and catch fireflies at night because there are thugs around,” Pable said. “I guess my frustration is we don’t have enough (police officers) to go around and stop these things. … They do care about the city, but they’re undermanned.”

Pirelli, who said he moved to Waukegan in 1998 when he was stationed at Fort Sheridan toward the end of a 21-year career in the Army, has no plans to move from what he called “a beautiful neighborhood.” He credited a Ridgeland Avenue resident with finding his discarded phone and returning it to him the day after the attack.

“This is a good neighborhood. It’s a historical district, you know?” he said. “I’m not going to cower and change my life. But I’m not going to walk home anymore — not late at night.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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