Chinese student’s violent death in Hyde Park ignited calls to action – but few details on how to tackle the city’s rising crime

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Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng didn’t stay in Chicago for long, but his murder on a Hyde Park street resonated in a city that was facing increasing violence for its second consecutive year.

The University of Chicago, where “clever and talented” Zheng recently earned a master’s degree in statistics, urged the mayor and police inspector to treat the violence as a “public health crisis.”

City Council members from the Hyde Park area said there was a state of emergency and a summit was needed to “understand how to triage neighborhoods.”

“When is enough, enough?” said Toni Preckwinkle, Chairman of Cook County, who lives in Hyde Park. Asked. and called for “immediate and urgent response to violence.”

At the end of the day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who beat Preckwinkle for office, “promised to meet with police and community leaders to determine concrete, concrete measures. [that] It can be taken to prevent such tragedies in the future.”


Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng
University of Chicago website

No one gave details, but after discussions with the university, City Hall and others, “we will share details soon,” he said.

Lightfoot and police Supt. David Brown regularly publicizes his efforts to fight crime.

In October, Brown announced a hotline. offers cash prizes in murder and arms-trafficking cases. brown also increased patrols After the rise in crime in the North River. Lightfoot’s 2022 budget promises to increase funding for a range of violence prevention programs.

But the violence remained stubbornly high.

There have been at least 698 murders this year, compared to 680 this time last year. At this point in 2019, the city had seen just 442 murders.

At least 3,909 people have been hit this year, an increase of almost 9% from the same point in 2020 and 69% from 2019.

According to police statistics, there were no murders in Hyde Park this time last year, but there have been five murders this year.

Filming in Hyde Park has more than tripled to 16 this year, but that’s still low compared to Woodlawn, the community area to the south. Woodlawn has seen 83 shots so far this year, a 150% increase from the same period in 2019. Also, there were 13 murders this year, down from 8 in 2020 and 9 in 2019.

“The five murders in Hyde Park this year are shocking and demand action, but we must also not overlook the fact that many neighborhoods in the city are facing more murders and shootings each year – and it should be shocking,” said the University of Chicago Crime Lab. and Roseanna Ander, general manager of the Education Lab.

“I hope the tragedies and loss of life in Hyde Park will help spark an unprecedented effort and a commitment to find solutions not just in Hyde Park but in every corner of our city.”

‘Promising academician’

Police said Zheng was on the pavement at block 900 of East 54th Street, and shortly before 2:00 PM on Tuesday, a dark-colored car pulled up and a gunman got out.

Eyewitnesses told officers that he was grappling with the robber and a bullet went off. Zheng was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center down the street, where he was pronounced dead.

Police said the robber returned to the car and fled west from Line 54. No arrest was made.

Police said businesses and cars were damaged by gunfire from a Hyundai Sonata on 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue, just a few blocks away, about two hours ago. No injuries were reported, but several cars and two businesses were damaged.

Zheng graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 2019 and earned a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Chicago last summer.

“He was motivated, independent, and intellectually curious,” said Mei Wang, director of the statistics master’s program. “He wanted to be a data scientist who could solve the important problems facing our society and help people help more people.”

Professor Dan Nicolae said that Zheng was “not only an up-and-coming academic, but also a wonderful person and was always willing to help other students. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.”

Xi Cheng, who had known Zheng for six months, remembered him as a “really positive, good person.” The two became friends after connecting on WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging and social media app, and donating clothes to Goodwill.

“I can sense that you love Chicago very much,” Cheng said. “I can feel you really enjoy it here and love it. [city] so it’s really tragic to hear that.”

Cheng, 22, gasped when he remembered Zheng and his love of sports, especially table tennis and photography. “Rest in peace.”

U. of C. staff, students, and friends of Zheng—many of whom were carrying bouquets of flowers—stopped at a memorial service at the 1000 block of East 54th Street Wednesday evening.

Some lit candles that flickered in the night breeze, others wrote messages to Zheng on white poster boards anchored by rocks. One poster read, “Stop the gun violence.”

Two university officials, who did not want to be named, put “Justice for the innocent” and “The innocent cannot die in vain!” written banners.

“We really, really think this is the worst year for Chicago U,” one of the women said, noting that three students were shot dead last year. “We feel like we have to do something, you can’t let it go on forever.”

‘This is a crisis’

Lightfoot said Wednesday evening that detectives were “working hard on the case and following a number of leads.” He did not say what they were or whether arrest was imminent.

Lightfoot said he had “several detailed conversations” with US President C, Paul Alivisatos. While working on longer-term plans, the mayor said patrols by campus police and Chicago police would be increased on campus and around Hyde Park.

“Long term, the city will continue to engage local community members, city councilors and other relevant stakeholders to gather feedback and recommendations on improving other public safety measures in the Hyde Park and Kenwood communities,” Lightfoot said.

Neither he nor Alivisatos said what those measures might be, but the school head said they would “include working with our neighbors”. [and] We call on the academic and political expertise of our university community.”

Neighborhood Mayor Leslie Harston speaks to reporters at the corner of 53rd Street and Harper Ave with community members and other elected officials at a news conference on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, on the recent violence in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Neighborhood Mayor Leslie Harston speaks to reporters at the corner of 53rd Street and Harper Ave with community members and other elected officials at a news conference on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, on the recent violence in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Ald. King of Sofia (4NS) and Ald. Leslie Hairdresser (5NS) said that a summit on Chicago violence should be held as soon as possible.

“There has to be a place where we are at the table with the governor, at the table with the mayor, at the table with the county, at the table with the city,” Hairston said. . “It has to happen quickly, quickly and in haste.

“This is a state of emergency and this is a crisis,” he added.

Preckwinkle did a similar search. But like the councilors and the mayor, he did not mention any specific measures to reduce the city’s chronic violence.

“We need an urgent and immediate response to violence, as well as a long-term plan to address these root causes of violence,” he said, pledging to reach “relevant stakeholders to bring everyone together and achieve real-world results.”

Emmanuel Camarillo, Cindy Hernandez, and Andy Boyle contributed.