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3 whites held in racial beating

Published Oct. 1, 2005

As a 13-year-old Chicago boy lay unconscious in a Cook County Hospital bed, authorities charged three white teenagers with trying to beat him to death. Their motive, police said: to rid the neighborhood of black residents.

The three white teens were each charged Sunday with attempted murder, aggravated battery and two counts of hate crimes in the near fatal beating Friday night in the Armour Square neighborhood on the near South Side, police said.

Authorities said the three pulled 13-year-old Lenard Clark from his bicycle, slammed his head into a building and repeatedly kicked him. He was found unconscious in an alley.

"They bragged to their friends that they had taken care of the "n-----s' in the neighborhood," said Chicago police Sgt. Marshall Andrews.

Residents of the neighborhood led investigators to the three suspects. They were identified by several witnesses Sunday afternoon, police said.

Charged in the attack were Frank Caruso, 17, Michael Kwidzinski, 19, and Victor Jasas, 17.

All three suspects were charged as adults.

Police said Caruso and Jasas are students at De La Salle Institute, alma mater of some of the city's most prominent politicians.

Police gave this account of the beating:

The 13-year-old boy and two friends had finished a pickup game of basketball Friday night in Armour Square park. As the group of boys walked through the neighborhood, they were taunted by three white teens.

The victim and his friends, a 13-year-old black boy and an 18-year-old Hispanic man, ran in different directions, but the victim was caught by three teens. Police said some residents witnessed the beating, which may have lasted for several minutes.

Andrews said race appeared to be the only motive. "This is strictly a random act of violence."

The injured eighth-grader had not regained consciousness Monday.

"He hasn't snapped out of it, but we're very hopeful he will," said the boy's father, whose name was not released. "We've just been talking to him, but he hasn't been talking back."

The boy's father said he was having trouble understanding the motivations behind the attack.

"He's 13 and they left him lying in the street," he said. "He was riding his bike and wasn't bothering anybody. It was a senseless act that should not have happened."

The neighborhoods where the boy lives and where the attack took place, which are separated by the Dan Ryan Expressway and a set of railroad tracks, have little in common.

Armour Square, a couple of blocks north of baseball's Comiskey Park, is a predominantly white enclave, dotted with bungalows. Just a few blocks away is Stateway Gardens, a predominantly black high-rise complex, surrounded by vacant lots and crumbling streets and sidewalks.

Despite the apparent racial and economic chasm and a history of an uneasy co-existence, the boy's father said that he was never afraid to walk through Armour Square and neighboring Bridgeport and that he never instructed his son to avoid the neighborhood.

"We were never afraid to go over there. It's just a few stupid people," he said, referring to past racial attacks on blacks who were caught in the area after dark.

"Just because a few people are like that, I don't blame the whole Bridgeport area."

After hearing of the charges, some residents said they feared it would reflect badly on Armour Square.

An 84-year-old man who has lived most of his life in the neighborhood said the attack tarnishes the area's reputation.

"I don't think it's right. It makes it bad for the neighborhood, for both the blacks and the whites," he said. "We normally have no problems here at all."

He then showed how old antagonisms have a way of lingering: At the request of his wife, who stood nearby, he asked to remain anonymous.

"She's afraid somebody will retaliate," the man said.