As murder shakes up our quiet block, reality TV is an unwelcome intruder


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Manning Peterson, One View

Since the senseless murder of UIC Professor Peter D'Agostino last Wednesday, nerves in southeast Oak Park are raw. On a normal weekend, there would be kids playing, dogs barking, and people gardening and washing cars and talking. But this Sunday, due to heat or fear or both, the kids are inside, the cops have disappeared, and the streets are deserted save for the occasional dog walker. Today, my dog is the only thing that forces me outside.

I decide, again, not to walk down Harvey. I can't. I live a block away, and on every lawn I imagine a body and wonder how long it would lie there until someone noticed. That could've been my husband, walking home from that train, thinking about the White Sox or dinner, walking down a quiet leafy street in broad daylight. And it was somebody's husband, somebody's father, somebody's brother, somebody's son. And it was my neighbor, a man I'd seen on the train.

The silence of my morbid thoughts is interrupted by an argument on the corner. A man on Highland is yelling at someone, extremely agitated. He storms across the street, turns in anger, and then yells something else. I am alarmed, afraid something else bad is about to happen. It is hot and we are all so stressed out?

I don't recognize the man, but if he's my neighbor, or he's threatening my neighbor, I have to do something to help. I open my cell phone (programmed to dial the police with one button) when a good-looking young man walks out from a side yard to watch the confrontation.

"This looks bad," I say, my hands shaking.

He laughs and says, "Don't worry. It's just acting."

As I approach the corner, I see that a tent is set up in front of the Highland house, and there is a camera crew and people standing around laughing.

"That was great! Totally believable!" says (I assume) the director of the TV show "Trading Spaces." A trailer emblazoned with the motto "Life. Unscripted." was parked nearby.

"You think this is funny?" I ask the crew. "Do you realize a man was murdered here, three days ago?"

"No?," says a crew member, annoyed, as if he was tired of hearing about it, "it wasn't here; it was on the next street." The director says something I don't hear, and again everyone erupts in laughter.

A husband and father was murdered in broad daylight, and you think it's appropriate to laugh, and to create phony disturbances when everyone around here is already on edge? You didn't think to postpone for a week? It's totally disrespectful. (I haven't put that in quotes because my actual words contained language suited to the situation if not to this newspaper.)

They just stood there and said nothing, and so my dog and I continued our walk down the street.

We turned down the next street, Cuyler, where the professor's family lives, past the school with the empty playground and past houses with empty porches and I wondered three things:

One, who at the Oak Park Police Department had the great idea to issue parking permits for a TV reality show days after a brutal murder was committed on those very streets? Especially when they seem to have no leads, and no suspects?

Two, what kind of homeowner has so little respect for his neighbors that?#34;-in the context of this tragedy?#34;-he would intentionally stage a loud, disruptive fight in the streets outside his home? And for what, a new kitchen?

Three, will people in this neighborhood?#34;-and especially the kids?#34;-ever feel safe to play in their own front yards again? Will we feel safe walking from the train? Will I ever walk with my dog through these streets and not think about that day?

I am trying but I can't make any sense out of this horror. I grieve for his family and all the other families in this neighborhood, and in every neighborhood where random violence?#34;-in a single instant?#34;-changes everything.

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