Chicago had another of its violent weekends over the holiday, which presents everyone with a serious problem: What if this becomes accepted as normal, that gang violence, deadly spats, fights that go ballistic (literally) and statistics piled up like firewood just become background noise in our urban (and suburban, too) lives.
You know what I mean. Its one of those things you hear on the radio on Monday morning and perhaps make a note of. But like most other things, it’s gone from your head by Wednesday. Or maybe you don’t even make a note of it Monday morning. Maybe it just becomes a regular thing, like the weather report or sports scores or political news.
Maybe in fact this has already happened. There was a parade down Michigan Avenue to protest this explosion of shootings. Maybe thousands participated. But many, many more thousands did not. Many of us, myself included, went on with our weekends; dined, partied, picnicked in the summer while all of this was happening in another world.
Location is everything, as they say in real estate, and it seems that’s probably true for homicide, too. If it’s not next door, or down the street, or on a corner nearby, it’s just something that happens in some ward delineated on a map of the southern and western parts of Chicago.
That’s where most of these killings happen, in another world over or down there.
It might as well be Beirut for most of the people who live on the boundaries of Chicago, but not in the heart, or the heat, of it. They see it in the paper, assuming they still read papers, or catch it on-line (WBEZ hit it hard on its website Monday morning, thank God). Maybe they read about it in one of John Fountain’s fine columns in the Sun-Times. Or in the Tribune in an op-ed piece.
But the fact is most of it blows by us like detritus on the street in a high wind. You know something just swept past you, but you turn away, close your eyes, do whatever you have to do to keep from having it in your face. It lowers homicide to the status of street trash blowing in a high wind. It’s here and then it’s gone.
Reporters have tried for years, quite valiantly, to tell the stories of these victims of gun crimes, from the criminals who get shot to the little kids who get caught in the cross fires. You would think one of those kid killings would be enough to unleash a long and loud cry, a keening moan for the dead.
But it doesn’t.
Atlantic Magazine had a great suggestion in response to the Texas school murders: children should go on strike, refuse to show up at school, until Congress does something about gun control laws that actually works. It’s recognition that “thoughts and prayers” aren’t effective. God does what God does.
The problem here is not God, it’s the people who pull the triggers.
Still, these terrible things just come and go. Maybe the cops will catch some of them. They are good at what they do, but there is just so much of it, it must be overwhelming to work homicide.
School shootings, of course, are much more dramatic and get a lot more media attention. People send prayers, flowers, public figures to take notice and call for a return to sanity, mourning for the slaughter of innocents. The media accounts list not only the last event, but go to lengths to itemize all the school shootings that have happened in the past decade.
They are most certainly awful events. But what happened in Chicago over the holiday weekend was an awful event, too. But it didn’t all happen in one place and didn’t all include images or names or stories of innocence that would make it seem all the more terrible.
But I think that is just media talking.
The chaos reflected in the numbers becomes a chart, or a simple recitation of those stats, some passing recognition, perhaps that this wasn’t the worst weekend of them all, then a reference to a weekend that piled up even higher numbers.
We have to find a way to stop looking at this so superficially.
It’s not getting better, I can assure you, and the people shot and slain in Chicago last weekend are just as dead as those children in the Texas classrooms. We don’t view them that way because of how it happens, where it happens, who is involved.
But the fact is that it is its own tragedy, with illegal firearms playing as much of a role as they play in most other murders, just on an individual basis.
But gun control isn’t going to solve this problem, either. We have to find some way to address the pathologies of people behind the killings. If that sounds like a pussy solution, so be it. Nothing else seems to have worked.
More important, the next time we have a bad weekend, please, don’t just think of it as something that happened down in some part of Chicago you would NEVER think of visiting. Think of it as human victims who deserved to live on, no matter how bad they might have seemed to outsiders, or how much they seemed to have played a role in their own deaths, or how casually the truly innocent fell to this wave of homicide.
We owe it to humanity to take notice on that level, and expand our sadness to envelope victims who are maybe not nearby, but much closer to home than many of us want to believe.