Story of the Summer

For most Americans, summer is a time for barbeques, baseball and vacations. But for many in this country's inner cities the warmer months bring violence, tragedy, death and, in some cases, hope. These are the stories of one summer in one town -- Peoria, Illinois.

Peoria’s new police chief, justice for some and the continuation of a rigged system for others

A few hours before the media descended on Peoria police headquarters, where Jerry Mitchell was named the department’s newest chief of police, the only man arrested in the unjustified raid of my friends’ home over the city’s most famous Twitter account fought for his rights in a downtown courtroom.

Jake Elliott has been sitting on weed possession charges since Mayor Jim Ardis had former police chief Steve Settingsgaard raid the home Elliott shared with Jon Daniel, creator of @peoriamayor, in April. A judge ruled today that police were in the right in carrying out their search warrant, but will require the Peoria Police Department to justify looking for drugs. Their reasons are already well known: Daniel referenced smoking weed and snorting blow in his tweets, which apparently gave three Peoria County judges everything they needed to sign off on the warrants that allowed cops to tear Elliott’s home apart. (They found only weed.)

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'You be careful': A crowd at the Taft, thoughts on Other Peoria, and what it means to be able to leave

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Sgt. David Cook sat behind the wheel of his Chevy Tahoe, reading or filing a police report on the SUV’s laptop on Thursday night. To his left, the spires of St. Mary’s Cathedral jutted upward toward a growing, black rain cloud. To his right, a group of women talked on the front stoop of an apartment at the Taft Homes.

“This your baby?” one woman said. “Cause you know he got eyes just like yours.”

Cook and other cops were at the housing project because a domestic got out of hand. “Both sides injured,” Cook told me, briefly looking up from his computer screen. A bottle was involved, at one point it was thrown, and the man was cut.

The incident required the cops’ presence and the blue lights soaking the 600 block of NE Adams drew gawkers, onlookers, wanderers.

“Historically, whenever there’s a situation at the Taft it draws a crowd,” Cook said.

What drew me to the Taft Thursday night was a tweet saying that pepper balls had been deployed to deal with that crowd, a tactic that’s already been used this month by police. But Cook told me they weren’t necessary. “We didn’t deploy,” the pepper balls he said, “but we brought the guns out.”

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One shot on West Russell

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Lt. Scott Cook, PPD.

The front yard of the home at 719 West Russell is the scene of a grim scavenger hunt. A dozen or so cops are walking through the grass, sweeping their feet back and forth, illuminating the ground with their flashlights. They’re looking for a shell casing, or anything else that will lead them to find the person who shot a man in his teens or early 20s in front of the home Monday night.

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Stories outside Peoria

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A young man cries after a 17-year-old was shot outside the Rainbow PUSH headquarters on June 27. The Rev. Jesse Jackson drove one of the victim’s friends to the hospital. | Photo by Alex Wroblewski

It’s been fairly quiet here at Story of the Summer recently. That’s for a few reasons.

1. I’m taking an intense eight-week class at ICC that absorbs most of my Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

2. I’ve been writing a lot for VICE lately and working on some longer term projects, like this one.

3. It’s been quiet on the streets. To my knowledge there haven’t been any major (I hate that description, but it’s the best I can think of at the moment) shooting incidents since about a month ago.

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The Police Chief Lied About One Aspect of the Twitter Raid and the County Sheriff Supports Ardis. Here’s Why:

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Dennis Campbell confronted supporters of Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis ahead of a packed City Council meeting Tuesday night. In Campbell’s hands was a poster of a handcuffed Dan Brown, a roommate of Jon Daniel’s. Brown was taken from his place of employment on the night of a raid carried out by police at the behest of Ardis. The home was raided over a Twitter account created by Daniel that parodied the mayor. Campbell’s poster contained three photos of Brown, each one in a different location inside the Peoria Police Department. In each, Brown is in handcuffs, but not technically under arrest.

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A full moon Friday night and the Other Peoria

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It’s been a crazy week after what has seemed like a particularly chaotic stretch of months here in the River City, which has had the unfortunate result of falling behind here over the past few days. What will likely be my final story (for VICE, anyway) on the Twitter debacle that has put Peoria on the lips and in the minds of many who’ve never heard of The P, went live this morning. Obviously, I’ll continue to track Jon Daniel’s lawsuit against the city, and how it plays out in the media and among politicians here in town, but right now, I’m looking forward to getting back on the streets.

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'I fell down the stairs,' three shot at the Harrison, and other stories from a busy few days

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Ke’ston Moore is wiggling a rip stick down the sidewalk in front of his apartment in the Harrison Homes. The device, which can be described as a skateboard with a hinge in the middle, is leaving waves in the dust that covers the path. The mud is long gone, and on this hot afternoon, the Harrison is bustling with activity. It was pretty busy early Sunday as well, when three people were shot in the newer part of the housing project, on a stretch of Krause Street dotted with the vinyl siding townhouses that are slowly replacing Moore’s barracks-style brick rectangles. In his report, a Peoria police officer wrote that he and two other cops heard the shots as they sat in their cars not far from the 2500 block of Krause, where the gunplay occurred. They arrived to find “large groups scattering from the area” and the three victims. One took a slug to the chest, the other two were shot in the foot and and thigh, respectively. A suspect vehicle was initially identified, but no one was immediately arrested. Moore heard about the shooting, he says Tuesday. But the 10-year-old’s mind is on Camp Kearney, “a place that’s got woods and fields and a lake we can take a boat out on.”

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'These kids think real life is violence'

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Not far from the traffic light-illuminated intersection of Prospect and McClure, two women are standing on the edge of the sidewalk leading to one of their homes. A cop car is idling in front of 4 Boys Gas and Food Mart, where a man was apparently shot Wednesday night.

Neither woman heard gunshots, and neither want to give their names. The streets are watching and they are listening as well, the women tell me. The shorter of the two, with a Corvette red top and black bandana, says “you can call me an ‘anonymous source.’

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'I just want to be honest' 22-year-old aspiring rapper gunned down

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The house at 813 S. Greenlawn is a curiosity. It has been sealed from its residents with crime scene tape. Cops are in and out of the home collecting evidence Saturday afternoon, their idling engines competing with chirping birds on a picture perfect Memorial Day Saturday. An officer is wandering through the knee-high grass of an empty lot next to the home, looking for anything related to the shooting death of 22-year-old Derrick “DJ” Booth Jr. He is the second homicide of the year.

Neighbors wonder why the police are there. Several I spoke with don’t know Booth’s body had been found on the porch of the home early this morning. Some say they don’t remember hearing gunshots. Tonya Sneed remembers hearing something, though, and she thought it was fireworks.

“I was a little scared,” she says. “I laid on the ground for a little bit.”

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One stabbed in Altamont Park: ‘This neighborhood isn’t safe’

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Peoria was not kind to Zachary Benefield. The 18-year-old from Creve Coeur will never regain full feeling in his right side, his friend and former roommate, Tiffany Hartman, says, after what was apparently a random stabbing last weekend. Benefield has since moved back to Creve Coeur.

He was upset and left his home in the 800 block of West McClure Avenue in the Altamont Park neighborhood Sunday night to go for a walk. On his stroll, somewhere in the 2100 block of Sheridan Road, Benefield was stabbed in the neck, the blade slicing into a portion of his spinal cord.

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