I woke up to the sound of what I thought was someone kicking in a door. Pow. Pow. Pow. I put on my robe, stuffed my cell phone in the pocket (in case I needed to call 911), got a flashlight, and ran to my back porch. Nothing was out there. Nothing I could see. It was 2 degrees and I was freezing. I came inside, too wound up to sleep, and I sat and thought: What could that noise have been?
I realized it was probably gun shots.
I live in a big city, but in a sleepy neighborhood of working-class folks and flight attendants (I’m a block from the train that goes to O’Hare Airport). It’s not a dangerous neighborhood, given Chicago statistics.
I live in one of the middle-class enclaves of kids and schools and hard-working regular folk. A Walgreens and a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts at the big intersections — nothing to see here. A Korean-speaking Catholic church up the street and a Greek Orthodox church and a Lutheran church less than a block away in either direction. The busiest corner is the one with a gas station and the Subway sandwich shop.
But… there have been some new scary signs. Gang graffiti spray-painted on apartment building walls. Young men hanging out and drinking beer and overturning dumpsters in the alley. Weird stuff – a small fire on the highway embankment where many homeless camp, their belongings destroyed. I talked to neighbors, who are worried.
Chicago is a battle-land. The gang wars have left hundreds of young people maimed or dead. The violence is out of control. The city leadership is proud that the overall murder rate is down, but every day the local newspapers put out a list of the (mostly young) people who were shot the night before. What is the answer?
It seems like someone else’s problem – the poor neighborhoods, minority neighborhoods, that’s where it is felt so acutely. But there’s no outcry. As if those young people are somehow less valuable than the youth where the middle-class people live. How can we expect the children who grow up in these neighborhoods, exposed to this bloodshed, to do well in school? To function as adults? They are probably suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They don’t know hope. Or safety. They don’t say, “When I grow, I want to be..” No, these kids say, “If I grow up….”
Are we growing immune to these stories? Jaded, thinking this is just the way it is? As if we can just give up on generations of young people? I worry about this, and not just because my neighborhood may be affected.
What do you think? Is there are answer to urban violence? How do we fight the demons of poverty and racism?
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather magazine.
Photo by Eric W. Used with permission.