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'We can't arrest ourselves out of this,' says Chicago alderman after attack at known 'problem corner'

Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — Not everyone who has been the victim of a violent crime would immediately turn their attention to how to get their assailant help. But not everyone who’s attacked has the same power to effect change as an alderman.

Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, didn’t suffer serious injuries when he was hit repeatedly with part of a broken table and put into a chokehold in Uptown Saturday night after he went to a “problem corner” to assess a report from a constituent about a disruptive group.

He said he has gone to the corner of Racine and Leland avenues several times in the past and knew from experience he wanted to gather as much information as possible before phoning police.

Chicago police were called after the situation took an ugly turn, said Cappleman, whose ward includes parts of Uptown and Lakeview. By Sunday morning, authorities had released a statement on the battery with a “blunt object” that didn’t make clear how dangerous the situation might have been for Cappleman. The alderman said at one point he and his husband were facing down eight to 10 men who appeared drunk or high on illicit drugs, one of whom confronted him and another who put him in a headlock.

Cappleman, reached on his cellphone Sunday, said one hand was swollen and he had some aches, but overall he wasn’t even as sore as he would be the day after a strenuous workout with his trainer.

A police spokesperson said an arrest was made in connection with the battery, which happened around 7:15 p.m. in the 4700 block of North Racine Avenue, on the border of the Uptown and Sheridan Park neighborhoods. Because Cappleman is a public servant who was performing duties related to his job, the man is expected to face a felony charge.

“We’re going to see what we can do to get this guy this help. But how do you help someone who is refusing help to address their addiction? I know it’s not just arresting them because arrests don’t always matter. When you’re released from Cook County Jail, you go right back to the streets,” Cappleman said, adding that the man police arrested has a criminal history.

Police had not released the man’s name and charges had not yet been filed Sunday evening.

Cappleman said his husband, Richard, had gone down to the corner earlier and taken away some garbage cans that a group had turned into chairs. The couple went there later because Cappleman was told there were still at least a dozen people there, drinking and causing a disturbance. When he arrived, though, he saw just one man.

“I talked to this guy and I said, ‘This can’t keep going on. Residents are rightly upset about this,’” he said. “They are out there just drinking nonstop and drugging and that kind of stuff. It’s caused a lot of concern to the community, especially these young families that live in the neighborhood.”

He said the corner has long been a place where people gather, but there was some success in keeping people away after a camera was installed nearby.

 

“In the past two weeks, it’s just gotten out of control again. And the problem is when you can get them to leave one corner they just go to the next corner,” he said.

When Cappleman noticed a table on the sidewalk, he told the man it didn’t belong there and he was taking it. But as he carried it away, turning north on Racine, he said he saw at least eight people sprawled out on the sidewalk. He said he would not have confronted a group that large, but one of the men immediately saw him with the table, and it was too late.

One of the men whom Cappleman said he recognized from previous arrests in the neighborhood looked at him and said, “That’s my table.”

He said the man grabbed the table and two other men approached. Between the three of them, Cappleman said they had dozens of combined arrests.

Cappleman said his husband called 911 as he continued to hold onto the table. That’s when one of the men put his arm around Cappleman’s neck. At some point, the table broke in half and Cappleman said his husband believes he was struck with a part of the table.

“He thought they were hitting me with it, that they hit me repeatedly. I had so much adrenaline going, I honestly can’t tell you,” Cappleman said. “He could’ve had a knife. ... That’s not the way I want to die.”

Despite that, Cappleman wants the man to get help, if he’s interested in it. He said his ideal outcome would be that after his release from jail the man gets placed in a structured sober living home that could help him kick his addiction — if he’s ready to try.

“We can’t arrest ourselves out of this,” Cappleman said. “For most humans, for most living creatures, we respond to negative and positive reinforcement. It can’t be all negative, but it can’t be all positive. We have to find that right balance. And we know we’ve found the right balance when it produces the intended result. For this guy, we’ve not found that right balance. I think he’s getting too many carrots and no sticks.”

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