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Lovejoy mother moves family to West Side; Early-morning attack with brick was latest blow, raising new concerns about safety of her children

An African-American family began moving out of its Lovejoy home sooner than expected after yet another brick crashed into a bedroom window at about 4:30 a.m. Friday.

Ann Cooper said she had planned to begin moving out today but felt it was necessary to immediately relocate her children to a relative's West Side home rather than risk having one of them struck by a brick or rock.

Since the family moved to Benzinger Street Jan. 11, racial taunts against Cooper and her loved ones have become routine. Violence erupted earlier this week when members of her family were pelted with rocks and chunks of brick by a large group of white teens and men.

Three teenagers were arrested late Tuesday night on hate crime charges for allegedly shattering two windows in the house and shouting racial slurs.

But Friday's early-morning attack has left the family angry and terrified.

"My niece came running into my bedroom at 4:30 a.m. and said they busted her window again. She was scared out of her mind," Cooper said.

Others in Lovejoy expressed frustration Friday that the attacks have been labeled as racially motivated, saying that Cooper's younger relatives initiated the trouble by attempting to take over the corner of East Lovejoy Street and Benzinger, displacing other teens who have congregated there for years.

The home being vacated by Cooper is beside the Lovejoy Discovery School's parking lot at the intersection.

Richard Fontana, who serves as the Common Council president and Lovejoy representative, says there is no room for racism in his district, but that the Cooper family has not helped itself by retaliating.

"The family was originally harassed, but when they called in other family members for protection, they turned the situation upside down, and they became the aggressors by sending two Lovejoy youths to the hospital and robbing fast food delivery people," Fontana said. "After that, I got involved and told both sides to stop the aggression. It was calm until 4:30 this morning."

Cooper took issue with Fontana's assessment.

She said that white youths and adults threw rocks and bricks at one of her sons and a nephew, prompting family members to fight back, adding that it occurred after months of racial slurs. "It wears on you," she said.

As for the allegations of fast food thefts, Cooper said no one at her home ordered the pizza or Chinese food and that no one on her porch attempted to take it.

But the delivery workers filed police reports late Tuesday night, with one claiming an order of pizza and chicken wings was snatched from him and the other reporting that he managed to flee with the Chinese food before it could be taken.

"Nobody got robbed here. The police recovered the pizza and the other delivery guy left with the Chinese food," Cooper said. "We were being harassed. Someone ordered that food and had it delivered to us. The deliveries came back to back.

"What they're trying to do is say that all black people do is rob and steal, and it is not true," Cooper said.

She added that "a police officer told me on Tuesday that they had placed a corrections officer in the back of a patrol car who was with the people throwing rocks. The cops said they were going to arrest him."

Police on Friday said the investigation was continuing and no additional arrests had been made.

Police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge on Friday said, "Mayor [Byron W.] Brown is concerned about the situation, and he's talked with both the Council president and Mrs. Cooper. He spoke with her for about a half hour this afternoon, and he has assured her that additional police patrols will be placed in the area for the time being."

The youths who were injured and went to the hospital for treatment, Cooper said, should have known better.

"The kids who did these things did get whupped," she said. "Their moms and fathers should have told them you don't make racial slurs. You can end up making them to the wrong person."

And of the latest vandalism, Bernardo Jimenez, Cooper's 21-year-old son, said he was awake in the living room watching a movie when he heard glass shattering followed by screeching tires.

"I looked out the front window and could see the back of a car racing down the street," Jimenez said.

Ebony Cooper, the 18-year-old niece who ended up sleeping on the living room floor, said seconds before the attack she could hear voices out in the parking lot coming in through the window, which had been partially broken on Tuesday.

"Someone asked a question and someone else said 'I don't know. Just do it,' " she said.

On Friday family members made a temporary move to the West Side home of Ann Cooper's brother, where they will stay until the family can raise enough money for a security deposit on a new residence.

Gary Chappell, the brother, said it was hard to believe that this was happening at a time when the country is supposed to be more enlightened.

Jason A. Mueller of Lake Effect Rentals, a property management company that placed the Coopers on Benzinger, vowed to relocate the family to another apartment before the end of the weekend.

"I have a lot of properties in Lovejoy that we manage, and it is a great area with a lot of great people, and the Coopers are very good tenants," Mueller said, adding that it is unfortunate some individuals turned to racist behavior. "We're going to get the Coopers out of there as soon as possible," he said.

Fontana said he is working to maintain racial harmony.

"I'm telling all the residents and every kid I can pull into my arms to stop the attacks, unless you're attacked first. You do have the right to defend yourself, but don't be the aggressor against anyone in the neighborhood," he said.

Donna Riley, a longtime Lovejoy resident, said it has been painful to watch changes in that section of the city.

"In the last couple years, I've seen things I've never seen before in Lovejoy. Drugs being dealt right in the street in daylight. New people moving in trying to steal people's cable TV lines. Twice now I've been awoken by neighbors fighting in the middle of the street in the middle of the night, and I have to work in the morning," she said.

Riley, who is white, added that she is proud to have many friends and relatives in the black community.

"I don't care what nationality you are, but I want my rights to be respected as much as you want your rights to be respected," she said. "I, too, am very proud of where this country is today and very sad that a whole community, Lovejoy, is being described as racist instead of certain individuals."