Forty-five people were shot over Easter weekend in Chicago. Of those forty-five, nine people died. Six of those shot were children.
For Chicagoans, headlines relating this type of news is routine and, for the most part, elicits a shake of the head and a protracted sigh visibly denoting weariness and helplessness that borders too much on apathy. For the rest of the world, it cements Chicago’s reputation as crime capital.
Too often it seems that the only conversation happening around the issue of violence is one sensationalized and propagated by the media, one that relates the numerical facts and opinionates on strategies in place or not in place and repeatedly simplifies the issue so that ultimately it becomes a problem lacking sufficient context. What we need is a real city-wide conversation that is not reductionist and does not exclude. We need honesty. We need emotion. We don’t need clichés or platitudes. We don’t need band-aid solutions. We need values and understanding and empathy and a firm resolution from everyone in the City of Chicago to stand up and not only say, “This needs to end,” but to also collectively proclaim, “I want to be part of the solution.”
An editorial piece in the Chicago Tribune yesterday pulls back the multi-layered wrapping encasing the problem of violence on Chicago streets and encourages residents to begin to peer more openly and intimately at the heart the issue:
This isn't the time to look at annual murder numbers, which have been in decline. Or criticize Chicago cops, who didn't pull these triggers. Or at federal authorities who have done much to contain gangs, guns and drugs, and now will organize a new anti- violence scheme. Or at any other avenue that shifts blame from where it squarely belongs. We write much here about violence, about strategies, about body counts. But after a weekend such as this, we ask that each resident of metropolitan Chicago focus on Monday's words from a mayor who undeniably cut to the heart of this rampant bloodshed:
"Every child deserves a childhood, regardless of where they live. But to do that, our city and community, the neighborhoods that make up this city, cannot live by a code of silence. They have to live by a moral code. Now I've read some of this, and I just want to say this, when some people go: 'Well, it's the weather.' It's whether you have values."
If we approach violence in this city as a disregard of values, then everyone is implicated. Responsibility transfers upward and outward, beginning most severely with those who commit these heinous, selfish acts and transferring along a chain to touch even those who choose to remain silent and distance themselves from what they believe doesn’t affect them.
But the violence does affect them, as it affects everyone who calls this complex city home. Our values should be the propeller to a conversation that searches for solutions.
Because this isn’t a problem that belongs to the south side or the west side. This isn’t a problem just of gangs, just of drugs, just of guns, just of poverty, just of culture. This isn’t a problem for only the police to solve, or the schools, or the mayor, or the feds. This is a city-wide problem structured through an intricate and often invisible web that stems beyond the places and the people we most frequently assign blame. It’s a problem of the masses and not the few. The Tribune editorial today asks if Chicago is helpless. With street violence plaguing the city for decades and no relief in sight despite a continuous stream of strategic reprieve tactics, the national image of a weakened and vulnerable Chicago postures the city as defenseless against its own residents.
Except, the ethos of Chicago is a far cry from helplessness. So it’s up to Chicagoans from the north side, south side, west side, loop to collectively revive and expand the conversation on violence and situate themselves as a coordinated system building toward a solution. A communicative and engaged city reaching beyond neighborhood barriers, income barriers, racial barriers is not a helpless city. Chicago does not have to continue spiraling chaotically toward its own demise. Let’s stand up collectively in conversation, as other cities do when tragedy strikes, and affirm that the violence needs to end and existing structures sustaining that violence need to change. Forty-five people were shot over the weekend and thousands others remained silent and apathetic; where has the value for human life gone? We cannot truly be a city of progress and innovation until all residents are accounted for and all lives in this city are perceived as valuable. The City needs all hands on deck for this task—needs a chorus of voices chanting for change and deliberating on what can be done individually and cooperatively to transform the culture of violence swallowing our beloved city.
Is Chicago helpless? Well, no, so long as we start trying to help ourselves. Let’s talk about how.