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To his right, in a crisp blue police uniform, tie knotted tightly, hat trimmed with lustrous gold brocade, stood the real star of the show: Melvin Davis, the new chief of police and the mayor’s handpicked choice to restore dignity and trust to a department that had lost both in recent months.The room was hot and thick, the result of a piece of bad luck.The air conditioner had chosen a particularly steamy day—August 20, 2013—to shut down. The past few months had been marked by too many scandals, blunders, and embarrassments.That January, Cook County’s sheriff, Tom Dart, had sent one of his top aides to investigate why so little crime was being reported in this town of 5,400 just south of Chicago.Another bears pictures of doctors who grew up in town.In the center of the room, preserved in a Plexiglas case, is the uniform worn by Robbins native Nichelle Nichols, a.k.a. “Robbins is by far the most historic of the all-black communities in the country,” Haymore says. I wanted this to be a place that told about all the good things.Not only were residents kept in the dark on the quarry, but the Cook County sheriff discovered that a village trustee involved in making the deal had accepted ,300 in campaign contributions from the proposed developer.
Hope returned in 1997, when the cash-strapped town successfully lobbied an engineering firm to locate its mammoth, smoke-spewing trash incinerator there.
Once a food and liquor store with a clientele that included the gang members and prostitutes who wander the surrounding blocks, it now houses the Robbins History Museum.
When I stop by one Saturday, the museum’s curator and director—a white-haired 67-year-old former CTA clerk named Tyrone Haymore—meets me at the steel-mesh door with a smile and a handshake. A lifelong Robbins resident, Haymore spent ,000 of his own money on the museum, which opened in 2010.
Three months after that, the replacement for Davis would be pushed out, too. In terms of sheer poverty, lawlessness, and corruption, there are worse towns in America.
There are places that are poorer, though not in Cook County, where Robbins’s paltry ,800 median household income—not even 40 percent of the countywide ,600—ranks dead last among 134 municipalities, and its 30 percent unemployment rate between 20 dwarfs the county’s 12 percent.
Not long after, then-mayor Irene Brodie, a tart-tongued town hall fixture for 36 years, stepped down, too. In one of her final acts, she signed off on a proposal that would allow a developer to rip up a huge chunk of town to build a limestone quarry—displacing residents of about 150 homes, almost none of whom knew anything about the plan. “It’s very relevant to separate the past from our future voyage,” he said. Davis had previously helmed departments in nearby University Park and in suburban Phoenix, and Smith’s résumé included law enforcement jobs in Los Angeles, New Jersey, and Georgia. “It’s just Robbins,” Robby Richardson told a reporter after the press conference.