Whose Chicago is Dying?

When you talk about violence in Chicago, which Chicago are you talking about?

About everyone?

About all of Chicago?

Or about those neighborhoods where violence leaps at you day in and day out?

In a powerful new book, How Long Will I Cry – Voices of Youth Violence, Alex Kotlowitz writes about the divisions between us and the reality of violence here in Chicago.

In a foreword, he writes:

Which brings us to the blunt, discomforting truth about the violence. Most of it occurs in deeply impoverished African-American and Latino neighborhoods, places where aspiration and ambition has withered and shrunk like, well, a raisin in the sun.”

He goes on and picks up here, saying…

“Then there’s the rest of us who reading the morning newspaper or watching the evening news hear of youngsters gunned down while riding their bike or walking down an alley or coming from a party, and think to ourselves, they must have done something to deserve it, they must have been up to no good. Virtually every teen and young man shot, the police tell us, belonged to a gang, as if that somehow suggests that “what goes around, comes around” But life in these communities is more tangled than that.”

This is a book that lets us hear exactly what the people of Chicago think and feel about the violence that plagues us. It is the work of DePaul University creative-writing students, who compiled the stories and created the portrait of our city in a heart-breaking moment.

And it brings me back to something I’ve raised with myself and others.

When we talk about violence, do we talk about the violence that afflicts all of Chicago or the terror that traps only a few neighborhoods?

I’ve long felt that it’s wrong and misleading to talk about violence city-wide when some communities experience violence that is exponentially higher and equal, probably, to what people endure in some Central American communities.

I think that if we recognize the inequalities and problems in those black and Latino communities, we can deal with them. And we won’t be deluding ourselves about the problems that linger deep down.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe if we make that argument, we’ll lose the support of people who don’t care or who don’t want to care or who won’t feel as much involved.

When I read this book, How Long I Will Cry, I sense the desire for everyone to take part in the discussion about the problem and then the solution to the problem of Chicago’s violence. And I admire and appreciate the effort.

So, maybe I’m wrong.

What do you think?

Let’ talk about this at upcoming workshop on covering violence – what more needs to be said? It is at 6 pm, Tuesday, Oct. 29th, first floor, 33 East Congress (at Wabash) Columbia College. 

Natalie Moore of WBEZ is the moderator and taking part are:
John Owens of the Trib, Gaynor Hall Paterson of WGN/CLTV, Brenda Butler of Columbia Links, Chris Rudd of the Mikva Challenge, and Juliana Stratton of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council.
We’ll be handing out copies of the book, edited by Miles Harvey of DePaul University. It is free and it is published by Big Shoulders Books. For more info go to: book.project@depaul.edu and
talk to me,
y photo by Carlos Javier Ortizsaludos,
Steve@chicagoistheworld.org – cell 773 595 8667



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