Looking Down the Loaded Barrel: A Loyola Law Student held at gunpoint for petty theft

Unfamiliar with the transit system in a new city, first year Loyola University Chicago law student and Los Angeles native Ezrah Bryant found himself in a situation that many fear: being robbed at gunpoint.



Loyola law student Ezrah Bryant, above, was robbed at gunpoint near the Ashland and 63rd red line stop last year.
Photo by Elisabeth Montemurro

Ezra Bryant enters the lobby of Loyola’s downtown Corboy Law School. Beaming, he stops to chat with a friend before continuing through the lobby. His calm presence noticeably warms those around him, but his smile quickly fades as he begins to discuss the event that occurred last year.

After a night of drinking with some fellow law students, whom he refers to as colleagues, Bryant left a River North bar, The Kerryman, around 2 a.m. Since moving to Chicago in mid-August 2013, he now considers the time “early” after discovering the city’s penchant for late-night bars.

Bryant faced another challenge familiar to many of Chicago’s newcomers: navigating the Chicago “L” trains.

“I had only been on the Red Line maybe once or twice before,” he said.

Bryant hopped on a southbound train – the wrong direction.  After what seemed like 45 minutes, Bryant got off the train where the Red Line ended over the summer months – near Ashland and 63rd.

“I know I was south of the Loop,” he said. “I was just walking … a block or two and I was looking around and I didn’t see anything that I recognized.”

But before he could acclimate himself to his surroundings, two men approached Bryant from behind.

“They were young. They couldn’t have been more than 20s maybe,” he said. “It sucked to see that they were African-American — just like me.”

One of the men held Bryant up against a brick wall with a pistol in his face while the other searched his pockets. The takeaway for the robbers was no more than $80 in cash.

“I’ve been robbed before, in Los Angeles and when I was abroad,” Bryant said. “But it was never at gunpoint.”

Since being robbed, Bryant no longer goes out for the evening with excess items like credit cards. He was thankful the men did not take his CTA pass so he could still manage to return home.

According to the City of Chicago Crime Data report, in the first month of Bryant’s Chicago residency, a total of 2,517 thefts were reported in which the total damages were $500 or less, a category Bryant’s incident falls under. Of those, 934 thefts, or 37 percent, occurred on the street. An additional 257 occurred on sidewalks. But the number of arrests made for street thefts is a paltry 23.

Bryant’s robbers went unreported to the authorities. Despite having a pistol shoved in his face, Bryant displayed empathy for the two men.

“It’s saying something about the circumstances that these kids are in. … There’s no other option for them but to do that,” Bryant said.

He “didn’t see the point” in reporting the incident; he claims doing so would have just put two more kids in an already crowded system. Instead, Bryant shared this nerve-wracking experience with his colleagues in the Black Student Law Association.

One colleague, Shana Jackson, a second year Loyola law student who is also pursuing a master’s in social work, said that she does not know Bryant that well but she was horrified when she heard about the incident.

“He’s from out of state and I didn’t want his first impression of Chicago to be that he was going to be robbed at gunpoint,” Jackson said.

Jackson passes the Ashland and 63rd stop almost daily on her way to and from school and the level of violence in that area disturbs her. She advised Bryant to give her a call if he ever got lost again.

“I just told him, he’s part of the family now,” she said.

Before Bryant moved, the L.A. native’s family and friends were concerned about Chicago’s history of violence. Admittedly, their views are based on their own news consumption. Describing himself as one that “doesn’t buy into the hype,” Bryant was rather surprised by the overwhelming number of warnings he received.

“I don’t know too much about the city’s history as far as guns are concerned. But obviously, these kids are getting easy access to them,” Jackson said. “These are sophisticated weapons.”

Bryant says it’s “a disease, especially in the poorer communities.”  He believes sharing this experience is just one way to fight its spread.