Hudson Deaths Add to Violence in Obama’s Home Town

October 30, 2008 - 4:35 AM
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Chicago (AP) - On the same weekend that county pathologists conducted autopsies on the bodies of actress-singer Jennifer Hudson's mother and brother, they also examined the bodies of six other people who'd been gunned down or beaten to death.
 
Five of them died in Chicago, as did the Oscar winner's mother, Darnell Donerson, her brother, Jason Hudson, and 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, whose body was found Monday. Like Hudson's relatives, three died on the city's South Side.
 
The deaths are yet another reminder of the bloodshed on Chicago's streets this year -- when the city has seen more homicides than both New York and Los Angeles. And they go a long way toward explaining why residents of Hudson's childhood neighborhood say it's not surprising that people may have heard gunfire coming from her family home but didn't bother to call police.
 
"You hear gunshots day and night, that's nothing new," said Ken Rasheeda, 38, who grew up in the neighborhood, Englewood, where he and his wife are now raising three children. "There's been times I heard gunshots and I didn't think twice about it, it's so common."
 
Englewood may not have the notoriety of old Chicago public housing complexes such as the Robert Taylor Homes or Cabrini Green, but the neighborhood -- part of the police department's 7th District -- is one of the most violent in the city, ranking at or near the top this year in numbers of homicides, sexual assaults and robberies. In fact, between January and August, 2,083 violent crimes occurred in the district -- more than in any of the city's 24 other districts.
 
The predominantly black neighborhood is less than 10 miles from downtown, yet it is also a world away. While gang violence made headlines when it erupted this summer in Grant Park, the city's lakefront showroom, such episodes are part of Englewood's landscape. And gunfire is part of the soundtrack.
 
People congregated this week outside the house where the bodies of Hudson's mother and brother were found. As the number of stuffed animals, balloons and flowers left against the front fence reached the hundreds, area residents said what happened inside, though tragic, is all too common.
 
"Because Jennifer Hudson lived here once upon a time you got all these people, all these teddy bears," Christine Baines said, holding her toddler daughter. "We lost five people in one house in April," she noted, referring to a fatal home invasion that already has faded into the distant memory of many Chicagoans.
 
Some residents claim the neighborhood does not get police attention equal to that of other, more affluent areas.
 
"On the North Side, you call police and they're out there in 5, 10 minutes," said Howard Denham, 33, who grew up across the street from the Hudson house and now lives on the city's North Side. "Somebody fires a firecracker and police are out with guns drawn."
 
Others, though, say residents bear responsibility if they know of or suspect violent crime.
 
"Maybe a phone call could have saved someone's life," Baines said of the shootings Friday at the Hudson family home.
 
Police say they do their best to protect all of Chicago's neighborhoods and note that on Friday, officers were at the scene five minutes after they were called.
 
William Balfour, 27, the estranged husband of Jennifer Hudson's sister, Julia Hudson, was taken into custody Friday for questioning in the killings. He has been named a suspect and is being held on a parole violation. Nobody has been charged in the deaths.
 
Police Superintendent Jody Weis said he understands people are sometimes reluctant to get involved, even when they hear gunfire. "That's the constant challenge we face all the time," he said.
 
While police have characterized the Hudson family killings as "domestic related," not random violence, neighborhood residents said they still hope the attention generated by the deaths leads people to call police, look out for one another and report suspicious behavior.
 
But they don't hold out much hope.
 
"For a few months or so people will straighten up, but then, believe me, after a couple of months it's back to the same routine," said Rasheeda, who, looking down at his 1-year-old son asleep in his stroller, vowed to move his family out of the only neighborhood he's ever called home.
 
Kevin Bennett, who grew up across the street from the Hudsons and counted them as friends, agreed. He thinks that not long after the television news crews leave, the neighborhood will return to the same violent place it's been for years.
 
Which is why he keeps coming back to the last time he saw Jason Hudson two or three weeks ago.
 
Bennett said he had asked his friend, "Why are you still here, man?"