A couple of days ago I came home from school. The journey back from my university in France was a long one, nearly a full day of travel. When my plane landed at O’Hare Airport, and I looked out the window to see the Chicago skyline in the distance, I couldn’t help but smile. I love my friends back at school--my first year of college had been an incredible experience--but man, it was good to be home.
But soon upon my return, I was greeted with all too familiar news; gun violence in Chicago. The morning after I arrived, the front page of the Chicago Tribune ran the headline “Deadliest May since 1995.” Every time gun crime had been discussed in the papers in previous years, it was always noted that crime had been much higher in previous decades. Even though things were bad, as the saying goes, they could always be worse. Now, that caveat doesn’t seem to stand up so well. Things have gotten worse. 243 people have been murdered in the first 5 months of this year in the city of Chicago. It’s the highest death toll since 1999. The results are heart breaking.
2016 is one of the deadliest years in decades in Chicago. Homicides are rising, shootings are rising, and nobody seems to know what to do about it. The mayor doesn’t know what to do, the new police superintendent doesn’t know what to do, pundits don’t know what to do, the government doesn’t know what to do, and while everyone is scratching their heads and trying to come up with solutions, the body count keeps climbing.
This city is full of wonderful things, of vibrant neighborhoods, incredible food, music, arts, architecture, and most of all, people. There are so many reasons Chicago should have a good reputation across the country, and yet the city is suffering from an identity crisis. No matter how positive the elements that thrive in the Second City, the dark underbelly is perpetually revealing itself. As the sun returns for the summer, there is a specter, a shadow. Summer means that the violence will only get worse. Some will spend the season frolicking in the sun, spending time at the beach and the parks, enjoying eating al fresco and going to concerts. Others will have their lives claimed by the spike in violence that comes with longer days and warmer temperature. I can already hear the clamor of Chicagoans saying that there is too much focus on the negative, that we are perpetuating an image of Chicago that does not represent the whole city. And they are right in saying that all of Chicago is not a war zone, and that the negative image is drowning out the great things that exist here. But the people who live here need to keep talking about the tragedy unfolding in the streets, because it is those people that must demand change.
June 2nd was National Gun Violence Awareness Day. In Hyde Park, the Southside neighborhood that Barack Obama once called home, there were marches, speeches, and poetry from those in this city who wanted the dead not to die in silence, and to take a stand for peace. The answers seem out of reach, people keep dying, and yet there is hope. Those in neighborhoods suffering from gun violence know that things can get better, that things have to get better. Sweet home Chicago may have a bitter taste lately, but the sweetness is still there. When all is said and done, it’s good to be back, and to see that there are those who believe and fight for a better future despite the madness.