The moment I realized I may have started to become desensitized to Chicago’s violence was a month and a half after I moved here. My boss told me there was a shooting near where I lived. “St. Louis and Augusta. That’s real close to you isn’t it?” she asked. I did a little research. It wasn’t that close to me, just over a mile south west. Back in Boston, that would have been enough to really shake me, but here, not really. I subletted a room in Uptown a few weeks back where a stabbing took place at the corner of my apartment building, my corner, where my room was two floors up. I recall seeing blood on the sidewalk until rain washed it away a few days later. After that, anything similar that is out of eye and ear shot was good enough for me.
I am well aware of my privileges. Despite the messiness of my upbringing there were a lot of things that made my life easier in comparison to those in my current neighborhood. I am a white, straight, educated millennial, the daughter of an upper middle class engineer. I was brought up on the idea that the word was mine for the taking and after few false starts, I took it. I ended up living at the corner of Wicker Park and Logan Square in Chicago working in Logistics for a food company. I am curious and observant by nature. Sometimes I’m too quick tongued for my own good.
I got into a heated discussion with one of my friends about crime and violence in Chicago, a friend who had similar privileges to me. I often compare my new city to Boston having it been my home city my whole life.
“Chicago is a bigger city, Jess,” he said. “Of course it’s going to seem like violence it’s happening more often.”
Frequency aside, a shooting can and will happen just about anywhere, at any time. Something that would keep people talking during both morning and evening commutes on the MBTA in Boston is something that is hardly mentioned at all on the CTA in Chicago. From what I observed thus far, it has become laced in the fabric of the city’s culture and while it’s not something they try to hide, they definitely don’t go at length to talk about it at least not in everyday conversation.
One thing this friend said that really struck me was, “Well it’s the gangs. If they gangs keep killing each other, then there will eventually be none left.”
If that were the case than the violence would have died off a long time ago. Any high school psychology class will teach you that the problem perpetuates itself. A kid grows up and sees that the most respected people in his neighborhood are the ones with the guns, he will emulate to be like them no matter how much his parents try to encourage him the other way. That kid grows up with a restlessness feeling like the only way he can change his word is with a raised fist, a crack pipe or a weapon. Maybe he was never taught that positive change takes a lot longer an you can’t see the results right away. Holding that gun in his hands he can see results, he is making the change. To him he is making things move, even if he is going backwards he is going somewhere. To some, watching your friends die might flick the switch but to many others it’s just part of life. When a gun falls at the side of a man who was shot dead someone else will certainly pick it up.
As an outsider, I could think of a hundred ways to change the most improvised areas of my new city, but is it welcome? No. I’m sure the average person raised in those parts would not accept my input with open arms having not experiencing a life even close to what they have. Like it’s easier for me to sit here at my computer and talk about what is wrong with Chicago, it is just as easy for the problems to persist. The same week, Chicago city council OK’d $500 million to refurbish Wrigley Field, (donated by a wealth family I guess) yet the city gave the pink slip to thousands of teachers totaling to $500 million in cuts.
So as outsiders what can we really do? For starters, that money you save by staying in Friday night eating Ramen and watching Grey’s Anatomy could be donated to one of the many organizations in Chicago or in your city geared to keeping kids off the streets. You can take a couple hours to volunteer at these places. You didn’t go out drinking that Friday; you won’t be hungover to help out Saturday morning. There is no excuse for negligence or empathy. Your city’s problem is YOUR problem, even if it’s not your friend dying in the street, even if it’s not your sister that is going hungry.