These Marks Do Not Fade

Tragedies stain us

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz

today and tomorrow and sometimes forever.

Here, where so much tragedy confronts so few, we’ve just begun reporting on the marks that we many never lose. And that’s a step forward in how we cover violence, I think.

Why?

It is good reporting that humanizes and takes us into lives we might not know.

The Tribune’s follow-up to three teenage friends of Hadiya Patterson, the teen gunned down in a park not far from President Obama’s house:

Klyn recounted the dream in an interview on a day in early March. She was wearing a rusty-brown pair of Hadiya’s calf boots, size 10, and had finished the day’s classes at her new school, Jones College Prep in the Loop.

The Loop was a different world from the South Side. After school, students could walk a couple of blocks to the Harold Washington Library Center, to cafes and museums. At King, there was just Potbelly’s and Subway and McDonald’s. And the park.

Klyn had wanted to leave King for a while. Several girls there had been hassling her. Then Hadiya died, and though in some ways King students felt more bonded than ever by their communal loss, every classroom, every hallway, seemed fogged by sadness.

Klyn found it hard to walk past the photos and teddy bears that smothered Hadiya’s locker.

She found Jones Prep to be easier academically than King, but she didn’t mind because it was only an interim stop in her getaway plan. She’d told Hadiya that what she really wanted to do was to go to boarding school, far away, a fantasy that left some of her friends skeptical. Not Hadiya.

“I think it will be great for you, K-bear,” Hadiya said.

Reporting on violence involves giving us a look at everything and everyone. This means, as Lolly Bowean’s powerful writing shows, telling us about how violence touches those linked to folks who lives are not perfect. Here she writes in the Tribune about such  a family visiting the Medical Examiner’s office to identify a loved one.

Because no matter how promising or troubled a child may be, most parents of slain youths must share this common painful ritual.

There’s the phone call that tells them to come identify the body. The same long walk from the medical examiner’s office lobby to a private room where they will see their loved one, in whatever state he or she died, on a monitor.

There are decisions about funeral homes, where to bury their loved one, and how. What should he wear? He was so young, and without a suit. Should we buy one, they ask themselves.

By the time they piled into their red Toyota Camry along with Timika’s sister, 15-year-old niece and her son’s 15-year-old best friend one day last week, much of the day was gone. Rush-hour traffic made what should have been a 20-minute drive last more than an hour.

When the group made it to the sterile, gray lobby of the medical examiner’s office, they had little to say to each other. They spread out on pink, hard furniture, fidgeting in silence.

It was quiet, but tension and anxiety filled the room.

And here too is a thoughtful reporter’s effort to draw the web of despair that engulfs families stranded on both sides of the gulf of violence. Dahleen Glanton is the Trib reporter.

The two mothers passed in the hallway every morning.

They never spoke, and they avoided eye contact, but each was keenly aware of the other.

Both dutifully took their places in the two front rows of Courtroom 202, behind a wall of tinted windows that separated the public gallery from the chamber. An aisle down the center of the gallery formed a divide between the two women — one of them searching for justice for the victim, the other seeking exoneration for the defendant.

Cherrish Brown sat on the left side, which offered a clear view of her 19-year-old son, Romairal Allen, seated at the defense table facing a charge of first-degree murder. On the right, LaWanda Sterling sat behind the prosecutors, wearing around her neck a symbol of her 16-year-old son, Jeremiah: a silver dog tag embossed with his picture and his date of death.

Both women said later that they wanted to acknowledge the other during the trial. But neither knew what to say.

Once, after lunch, they ended up at the courthouse security checkpoint at the same time. As they waited for their purses to be screened, some family members took the opportunity to break the ice.

So, what’s the message. We want reporting that is humane and compelling, that goes beyond stereotypes and that transports us to places to witness others’ lives.

And hopefully you’ll join us on June 11th for our workshop on what journalists need to know about measuring success in stopping youth violence. See our posts here.

Talk to me – digame, steve@chicagoistheworld.org, office 312 369 6400

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz


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