City’s residents take a stand

Brian Rosenthal

SKOKIE – As Jose Clark walked into the Cook County Circuit Courthouse on Wednesday morning, two rows of people stood at attention.

Their action triggered confusion, as everyone in the room started to stand.

“Ladies and gentleman, you’re welcome to stand, but you can also have a seat,” said Judge Larry Axelrood.

But a group of 15 kept standing.

“Just want you to know we’re here,” said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) to the judge.

Rainey, along with 14 other Evanston residents and community leaders, attended a preliminary hearing for Clark, 26, the man accused of breaking into several laundry rooms in south Evanston and stealing coins from the machines. Their presence at Wednesday’s hearing was intended to demonstrate frustration for a court system that they say has been too lenient on criminals recently.

After testimony from two detectives, Axelrood ruled there was probable cause for a trial, and set a court date for next month. Det. Tim Van Dyk of the Evanston Police Department told the court about his investigation of two different basement laundry room break-ins occurring in November and December, and Det. Angelo Williams, also of EPD, testified that Clark admitted to the crimes at the police station Dec. 29.

Clark was taken into custody Dec. 29, after being stopped for a traffic violation, on charges of possessing drug paraphernalia. Further questioning by Williams led to Clark’s admission to the burglaries, Williams testified Wednesday.

According to Williams, Clark said he broke into two different laundry rooms in Evanston apartment buildings. He said he took $100 in coins from several machines at 203 Custer Ave., but was unable to get any money from the machines at 201 Elmwood Ave.

The residents’ presence was part of a larger initiative spearheaded by Rainey to reduce crime in south Evanston.

Crime increased 12 percent in 2007 from 2006, Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington told the DAILY two weeks ago. At the time of Clark’s arrest, police hailed it as a sign of successful efforts to fight a recent crime wave.

The idea for the public presence came out of a Jan. 3 meeting to discuss Evanston crime and what the community can do to prevent it.

At the meeting, police told citizens that the court system has been too lenient on criminals, said Gary Brooks, coordinator of the Brummel Park Neighborhood Watch, which operates in south Evanston.

Rainey advertised for the court appearance on her message board, saying it would show that Evanston residents care about crime.

“We were told by community leaders that our presence would get the attention of the judge so he’d handle (the case) more closely,” said 25-year resident Kurt Bjorling, who attended the hearing. “I was part of a large group of people who came here just to be here and be seen here.”

The residents were certainly seen, prompting whispers from many in the courtroom, including Clark’s fiancee, who wondered aloud “Who are these people?”

Organizers said they were pleased with the turnout.

“It remains to be seen if we had an impact on the judicial system, but Mr. Clark, his attorney, and the woman who accompanied him to court certainly took notice that neighbors came together as a group for his hearing,” said Brummel Park Neighbors Chairwoman Michele Hays on Rainey’s message board.

Axelrood’s decision means Clark, who is still in police custody, will stand trial for burglary next month. He will appear at Circuit Court in Skokie Feb. 13.

Brooks said he will be in attendance for the trial, with a larger contingent of residents.

“Today was just a little tidbit,” he said. “This is the beginning of a community coming alive, and fighting for our area.”

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