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Test of nerves at dangerous street corner in Humboldt Park

Jesus Diaz father slateenager Jovany Diaz talks about his sFriday June 17 2011 Chicago.  | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Jesus Diaz, father of slain teenager Jovany Diaz, talks about his son on Friday, June 17, 2011 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 24, 2011 12:22AM

Jesus Diaz decided against burying his slain teenage son during the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

The 15-year-old boy was shot to death Monday at Kildare and Hirsch — Chicago’s deadliest corner last week — where three people were shot, two fatally.

And Diaz, a former heroin junky and car thief, says his boy wouldn’t get a proper funeral on Saturday with street tensions high and warring gang members expected at the parade.

“We’re Puerto Ricans,” he said. “We know how things get down.”

In that part of West Humboldt Park, street business is handled with pistols.

And Jovany Diaz’s murder wasn’t different.

Last year, Jovany got in a fight at Amundsen High School and badly beat up a classmate — allegedly a Spanish Lord gang member — whose brother vowed revenge, according to a Chicago Police source familiar with the case.

Last week, Jovany was shot multiple times while celebrating his birthday and died on the sidewalk.

After Jovany was killed, that corner got “hot” — again.

For years, the neighborhood has been terrorized by rival gangs battling over open-air drug markets, said a retired gang investigator for Chicago Police.

Since 2007, there have been 70 crimes that involved guns — rape, robberies, unlawful possession of a handgun, aggravated battery and murder — around one block of Kildare and Hirsch.

“Young bucks out there, they don’t care,” Jesus Diaz said. “They see what’s happening. They shoot and don’t care who gets hit. That’s what’s going on today.”

Neighbors don’t want to talk

At noon Friday, the corner was quiet.

There hadn’t been gunfire near Kildare and Hirsch for two days, but people on the street were still tense.

Young men with neck tattoos stalked the sidewalk in front of makeshift memorials and fresh graffiti tags honoring the recently dead — Diaz and his pal, 21-year-old Pedro Gonzalez III.

Folks sitting on nearby porches kept their eyes fixed on the street corner scene, where a mix of young black and Latino men paced anxiously and shared secret handshakes.

Neighbors didn’t want to talk about the shootings, the obvious nervousness on the street or what life has been like since their West Side block became a venue for gunfights.

“Get away from here,” one neighbor said as two young, tough Latino men approached. “Keep walking away from here. Now.”

Just five days earlier, the mood had been as loose and carefree as it gets in K-Town.

But as Jovany danced, chatted about girls and celebrated his 15th birthday with pals just yards from his home Monday night, several men ran from the alley and fired four fatal shots.

As a Sun-Times reporter looked on the following afternoon, a group of 25 to 30 mourners, including members of the Latin Kings gang, gathered where Jovany fell. An argument erupted with a group of Insane Unknown gang members, according to teens on the block and police sources.

Feeling that the Unknowns — who are historically allies of the Kings — had “disrespected” Jovany’s shrine, a Latin King opened fire, shooting a 24-year-old man in the leg, the sources said.

Police flooded the area Wednesday, hoping to calm the situation. But when Gonzalez was spotted with a gun, he fled police, and then pointed a gun at officers, leading them to shoot and kill him, police investigators said. Neighborhood witnesses later challenged the police version of events, saying Gonzalez was unarmed.

An officer safety alert warning that cops are at a heightened risk of being shot in the area has since been put in place, police sources said.

On Friday night, dispatchers had been instructed to send two beat cars to all calls for service in that part of town.

Dad had history of trouble

There’s a picture on Facebook of Jovany and Gonzalez sitting on a couch, twisting their fingers into shapes that police sources described as Latin King gang signs.

Their family members say neither murder victim had gang affiliations.

But around Kildare and Hirsch it’s not always the colors you wear that define you. Sometimes you are judged by the company you keep.

“I’m not going to cover the sky with my hands,” Diaz said. “Some of Jovany’s buddies were hooked up with some kind of mob. He wasn’t in a gang, but his friends were involved in some organization. Him being friends or associates with them, you get caught up in madness. The wrong place. The wrong time. The wrong people.”

Diaz knows all about it. He grew up near Beach and Spaulding — a part of town the Latin Kings call the “Motherland.”

“Some of my guys are hard-core gang-bangers,” Diaz said. “All around me there wasn’t nothing but gangs, but I never got initiated in any organization.”

He was a dope fiend. By age 17, he earned his first felony conviction for robbery. Many more would follow.

“I got caught up in bad decisions that cost me my freedom. All crimes related to my drug addiction to heroin and cocaine,” he said. “All the time I got, if you add it together, was probably over 10 years.”

And in all those trips to jail, he was never marked as a gang member. His only tattoo bears a nickname, “Lil Chewy”

Diaz’s last conviction was for stealing a car in 2004. He was sentenced to seven years in jail, where he got drug treatment and turned his life around.

“I got a job, got married again, got my own car, pay my own rent and don’t hang with the old crowd,” he said. “Not that I’m better than them, I’m just not doing what they’re doing. I got what I call my positive group to keep me on track. I was looking out for Jovany and his brother. I did the best I could.”

But because Diaz couldn’t keep his life together, Jovany lived with his grandmother, who was both mother and father to the slain boy.

Diaz says he knows the neighborhood wasn’t a “healthy place” for his son to live.

He’s right. Crime statistics for the block tell a chilling tale.

Within a block of Jovany’s home, someone has been shot, been robbed at gunpoint or committed a crime with a gun an average of every 21 days over the last four years.

At least 10 victims have been robbed or raped at gunpoint so far this year. Located in the Grand Central district — the city’s second worst for overall crime last year — Jovany’s home is also within a block of the spots where three other young men have been gunned down in the last three years.

Donovan Morris-Beverly, 16, was killed Sept. 20, 2008, on the 1300 block of North Kildare, and Christopher Landers, 21, was shot dead on Dec. 2, 2009.

And in a depressing precedent to Jovany’s slaying — Roger Escalante, 16, was shot dead at his buddy’s 16th birthday party on Feb. 21, 2010.

“You want to live in an area where a kid can have a better life, but in those areas they want serious money, man,” said Diaz, who works as a porter at a north suburban car dealership. “It’s hard when you ain’t got the right income coming in.”

Aunt moved away

After waiting more than a week, Diaz will make sure his son has a proper funeral before he’s buried on Wednesday at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside.

And then he hopes to move the boy’s grandmother — and his oldest son — far away from the violent corner that shattered his family.

“I’m worried — 100 percent. This is just the beginning of the summer, man, and it seems like every summer is when these things go down,” Diaz said. “ I feel bad for people who own properties and that’s where their kids grew up. It’s sad. It’s a shame they’re stuck there. But we gotta do what we gotta do. I gotta get that side of the family out of there.”

He doesn’t expect justice for Jovany, but he holds hope someone will step forward and finger the triggerman.

“Not snitching is one of the biggest problems. These things happen, people see what’s going on. They don’t want to get caught up. They don’t want to be part of it. They fear for family members and kids around her. Or they feel they ain’t have no protection from this Police Department,” he said. “I just hope the community comes together and help the good police officers stop all this madness.”

The silence eats at Jovany’s great-aunt, Lydia Tartabu, who moved her family to Rockford to escape the violence.

“Someone knows who did it. And it’s like the police said, ‘How can we fix things if you won’t talk?’ A kid’s shot in the leg. He knows who shot him, and he won’t say,” Tartabu said. “We feel helpless because no one wants to talk. No one is saying what’s really going on. Well kids are dying. In that neighborhood that’s what’s going on.”

Contributing: Frank Main


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