Businesswoman in nightclub district tapes violence to spur action

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A businesswoman armed with a video camera is challenging city officials to stop street violence that is tormenting neighbors and patrons of one of Chicago's nightclub districts.

The near-West Side of Chicago looks like the Wild West most every Saturday and Sunday morning. On Lake Street just beyond the Loop, the two-lane roadway under the El tracks-turns into anarchy on the asphalt when the club crowd starts to head home. And recently, the video vigilante was taping when a murder went down.

This has been underway for more than three years, a nightly rumble or two as patrons from nightclubs leave when the doors close at 3 a.m. On some weekend nights pushing turns into slugfests; other nights people are thrown onto the street and repeatedly kicked.

All of the video scenes were shot by Kathy Kozan, a former schoolteacher who owns an art studio and residence right across the street.

"I established my life here, my business, my residence, and I am not doing anything wrong," she said.

Chicago police, many times on scene because of past violence, have made dozens of arrests there the past two years. Most, they say, are of patrons and employees from the bar Chromium.

"I have another business that moves in. They start breaking the law, they start bringing people in that are fighting in the streets. And people ask me, 'Am I going to leave?' I am not the one that needs to be making changes, and I am not going anywhere," said Kozan.

Instead, Kozan has built a Web site that features the Lake Street videos. It is not a pretty picture of what happens at closing time.

"I thought that people would be so outraged to see people being beaten in the street. I couldn't believe, in my mind, that somebody could watch that tape and be so outraged that they would lose their license the next day," Kozan said.

That hasn't happened.

For nearly two years, the city has been trying to close down Chromium under a new gang and drug house ordinance, citing dozens of violent, criminal incidents inside and outside the club as well as a long list of code violations.

In June and July, the city also charged the club with liquor license violations.

Police commander Ron Sodini praises Kozan's efforts and said the 12th District is committed to curbing Lake St. violence. But the city's efforts weren't enough to prevent what happened early on Sunday, August 19 at 3:10 a.m. As patrons were leaving chromium, Kozan's camera was rolling. Five gunshots, just down the street from several Chicago police officers who were posted in front of the club at the time, were fired into the back of 28-year-old Omari Houston had just left Chromium with some relatives and friends. The gunman slipped away.

"There were so many people out. To do this so close to police officers shows just no regard for human life. And they got away with it. It's been two months, and nothing's happened," said Rajeev Bajaj, victim's best friend.

Houston was mourned as a friendly, always smiling young man working toward his dream of developing real estate. For loved ones, his work boots are a vivid reminder of a loss that no one outside family even seemed to notice.

"It hurts. It is a shame because of the type of person that he was, it should have rang a lot of alarms," said the victim's cousin, Chevon Noble, on the lack of attention the death received.

"You just can't imagine that people are beating and hurting each other on the street, and we are giving them a license to do that," said Kozan.

The woman who holds the license for Chromium, Jehad Shehade of west suburban Addison, is also listed in state records as the owner, although a city of Chicago lawsuit claims she is a stooge for her husband, Tony Perez, who is ineligible for a liquor license.

Shehade refused comment.

Shehade's lawyer said they are trying to work out the problems, hoping to settle out of court, suggested they are trying to sell the club and contended there is adequate club security.

"These people are fighting in the street and killing each other, I have something to say. This is my neighborhood. This is my front sidewalks. You can't deny what's on the tape there. You can't deny it," said Kozan.

So the question is: why is Chromium still open? The city said due process takes time, but neither city lawyers nor the police would go on camera to talk about it. And Alderman Walter Burnett never returned our calls.

Police detectives say they know the identity of the gunman, but so far, have been unable to locate him.

Visit Kozan's Web site, Lake Street Lookout

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