West Side aldermen were joined by community residents and others June 20 to express their outrage over recycling gone criminal. They held a press conference outside of Gomez Recycling in the Austin area to demand a halt to the business’ practice of accepting metal for scrap without asking questions or requiring identification.
Aldermen Emma Mitts (37th) and Jason Ervin (28th) said they would be introducing an ordinance amendment that would hold recyclers like Gomez more accountable since many residents believe the recyclers help fuel a metal theft and property burglary enterprise.
Felipe Gomez watched from the entrance of his facility as members of the community complained about the way he does business. He laughed some of it off and told the Chicago Citizen that he does ask for identification when recyclers come to his yard but he added that he has no way of telling if the items they bring in are ill-gotten.
“Somebody no bring I.D. (I) no buy nothing,” he said. He pays 11 cents per pound. “I don’t know if they are stealing or no stealing. All they need is I.D.”
Rev. Edwin Perry said thieves removed the gutters and downspout off of his West Side church and took the pickings to a local scrap metal facility like Gomez Recycling and cashed in. The pastor of Fillmore Christian House of Prayer said his church had to pay over $2,000 to replace the materials. He was one of several area stakeholders calling for places like Gomez Recycling, located at 4625 W. Chicago Ave., to also cease 24-hour operations.
“This is a citywide issue, not just for the African American community but everybody has been affected by this,” said Ervin. He said nearly a dozen aldermen have already lined up to support the proposed amendment and he expects that more will be onboard soon. “We’re all together on this.”
Some scrappers have upped the ante on their collecting, opting to go from picking up pop cans, stray bicycle frames and aluminum foil to tearing copper wiring from air conditioner units, “lifting” fences, gates and other metal on city and private property, and cruising alleys and other areas for wares.
“Recycling has become the new way of earning dollars and creating jobs for some. Unfortunately, you don’t see a lot of us who have our trucks rolling around in the neighborhood doing his type of work. Usually it’s more the Hispanic community that do the recycling,” Mitts said.
She explained that other people have found out “there’s money in recycling” and have started to collect metal using shopping cars and wheeled residential garbage cans.
“(Thieves) are taking everything because they’ve found out there’s money in this. What once was just recycling is now…recycling everybody and everything including your house,” she said.
The amendment, which was to be introduced to a City Council committee a day after the press conference, calls for recycling facilities to maintain a written or computer database of people who bring in recyclables. Owners would be required to ask for a government-issued ID, identification issued by the Mexican consulate, or a valid passport — along with a utility bill or other document listing the recycler’s current address.
“The measures “stop the market, where you have a place to step in and readily take your goods to be sold. That’s what we’re trying to regulate. If you can stop where they can bring it to to sell it then you can stop a lot of the (illegal) activity,” said Mitts.
Nicole Harvey is “distraught” over what happened to her West Side property. She said thieves took her entire central air unit, plucked a fire pit from her back porch and took copper wiring from her home. She found out from a neighbor that the brazen thieves loaded the goods into Harvey’s garbage dumpster and rolled it down the street, right up to Gomez Recycling.
“When I came here to Gomez Recycling and the guy opened the door, there was the housing of my unit with the serial number on it,” she said. She called the police. Harvey ended up paying $4,800 for a new central air unit, but so far has not had the money to replace the fire pit.
She pointed to the recycling facility as she blamed it for the antagonizing the community.
“Hopefully this ordinance will curb crime because this has become the crime haven of our community. If we want to know where crime is going, if you want to know where theft is going it’s going right here,” she said.
By Rhonda Gillespie