CHICAGO (CBS) — The intersection of 79th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue was the site of an infamous body slam last November.
But community members said not all the problems at the corner are on viral video.
CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas learned of an effort from police and neighbors to steer the troubled area in the right direction.
“You’ve got one-stop shooting,” said Chicago Police Gresham District Cmdr. Rahman Muhammad.
He was talking about the currency exchange at the corner where people can cash their checks, and then the liquor store where they can buy booze right afterward.
And that’s just the legal stuff.
“A lot of drug sales are made here.” Said Matt Brandon. “They sell all kinds of contraband here.”
The corner of 79th and Cottage Grove is rife with transactions of the kind that cause problems – but also of the kind that solve problems.
One group you’ll find on the corner there isn’t dealing in liquor or drugs, but free help. Neighbors and police officers invite people off the corner and into a one-stop shop for help with counseling, health care, and job opportunities.
“The police has been saying, and they’re absolutely right, that there has to be a community-police relationship,” said Brandon, a retired police officer himself. “So what we wanted to do is start somewhere.”
Brandon helped plan the outreach, dubbed a “community interaction mission.”
He said the corner has long been a haven for people hanging out, smoking and drinking – and up to no good.
Last September, 79th and Cottage Grove made headlines when a bus stop bench was removed to crack down on loitering.
In November, the intersection made the news again when a police officer body-slammed a man. Police said the man, Bernard Kersh, had been hanging out near that same bus stop drinking and spat in an officer’s face.
“The guy that got body slammed, he was a person who was in need of services,” Brandon said. “From what we understand, he had some mental issues.”
Brandon said that unfortunate moment is just one example of the trouble at the corner.
Cmdr. Muhammad said he started brainstorming ways to help people at the corner months before the body-slam incident.
“I realized that a lot of the people out here, they’re not necessarily doing anything wrong or illegal,” Muhammad said. “They just don’t have anything to do.”
And many in the neighborhood want something to do. One man, James Allen, got off a bus and accepted the invitation.
“It’s important for me in particular because I just want to right, and I got a lot of people that’s counting on me, especially my family,” Allen said.
He learned of a job fair he plans to attend later this month.
That help room was just set up for one day earlier this week, but Cmdr. Muhammad said it was not just a one-off.
The group is already planning another outreach at another South Side spot, and Cmdr. Muhammad hopes to have one every few weeks.