When a kid grows up in a city such as Chicago, the kid has the unfortunate opportunity to take for granted of the immense fullness the city has to offer. Everything from the Museums to the parks. Aquariums to the symphony. Navy pier to The Magnificent Mile. Lights in December to bike rides in June. Cubs games, Hawks games, and Bulls games. Food from every country, buildings for miles and miles. From train rides, to bus rides, to subway rides. 5 star restaurants to your favourite dives. That little improv place you found to The Chicago Theater. City life to suburban life. The Air and Water Show to the Taste of Chicago itself….this is a great town, my kind of town. I am proud of my town. And yet, I felt like I barely knew it. This could not have been more true the day I read an article explaining how Chicago has become Murder Capital U.S.A.
As I read the article, emotions began to make their way to the top. I knew it was bad, but not this bad. Questions were forming at a rapid pace: “How could I have not known about this?” “Why is the drug war making its way to Chicago?” “How will this new law help?” “Is it just a band-aid? Can a band-aid stop a torrent?”
“Last September, the FBI named Chicago as America’s murder capital after 500 killings were recorded in 2012. Its murder toll was higher than New York’s 419 despite Chicago having only one-third of the Big Apple’s population.”
This statistic got me thinking about what the murder rate is like in New Zealand, as this is where I now live. With so few having access to firearms in NZ, I was curious as to how the rates would compare. What I found shocked me to the core. This is a screenshot from the “Police Statistics on Homicide Victims in New Zealand for the period 2007 – 2011”
This chart says that for a population of over 4 million people, 1.5 times more people than in the immediate Chicago area, in the past 5 years, New Zealand has only had 364 homicides. New York has less than Chicago even though it’s three times our size. Which leaves a city of only 2.7 million as of 2012…with over 500 homicides in ONE years time…Chicago.
Still, these stats are not what hit the panic button for me. No, the true sadness came when I was reading this section of the article, if you haven’t read it already:
“Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was shot dead not far from the President’s home in Chicago during a gangland shootout….A few weeks later, Chicago was horrified once more when a six-month-old baby girl died after she was shot five times….The killing of Jonylah Watkins happened in March during a gangland assassination attempt on her father, and that same month 6-year-old Aliyah Shell was murdered in another drive-by shooting….
Homicides continued throughout the summer, and then in September a gunman opened fire with an assault rifle on a basketball game, wounding a 3-year-old boy and 12 other people.
In November, 18 people were shot in one weekend.”
What is happening? On and on it went, listing the dead. I thought it was normal when I was growing up, every night my parents would watch the news, and every night the reporters would mention a shooting. It was almost always in the poorer areas of Chicago that the news was reporting from. Then when I was older, I would tell people this and they would look at me funny telling me that this was not common to hear on the news when they grew up. I grew up around a grim reality. Everyday, someone is getting shot. Everyday, someone will die. Everyday, the problem would worsen.
Just over the Easter weekend I learned that 45 people were shot outside a children’s park, and has now spurned the new nickname for our city, Chiraq. At some point, this has to make noise. At some point, something has to be done.
That’s exactly what some organizations are trying to do. The University of Chicago has the, “Chicago Youth Gun Violence Initiative,” which partners with local communities to learn more about what works in reducing the gun violence rates. ABC news is putting on a series called, “STOP the Violence,” that focuses on how to de-escalate the amount of gun related deaths in Chicago, such as sport programs and street art sessions. Chicago has also seen a drop in violence due to it’s Conceal and Carry laws.
This city is not lost, but it is on the tipping point. We need to make a decision on the future of this city. Chicago is beautiful, for all the reasons I mentioned…but this was the Chicago I chose to see. The reality is much more grey, much less black and white.