In the last ten years there have been seven deadly mass shootings across the United States of America. These horrific days in the past decade included the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the babies of Newtown, the theater goers in Aurora, as well as victims in Blacksburg, Virginia, San Bernardino, California, Fort Hood Texas, and Binghamton, N.Y. In ten years, there were 161 people killed and 186 injured by gun violence at the hands of madmen. Innocent people, lives cut short, and for what? As Americans that’s what we wanted to know. We fought bitterly regarding gun laws and safety and police and more recently, about immigration. How do we stop this? What can we do? This is an outrage. This is tragic. We are supposed to be the greatest country in the world and we’re letting homegrown terrorists attack our citizens.
We held vigils. We set up donations and GoFundMe pages. We marched in parades and had moments of silence on the most public of stages. We published People magazine articles giving all of these victims a face, showing their story, and deservedly so. We demanded our politicians give us answers and plans. We wanted change and needed answers; This must be stopped!!
Meanwhile, in my city, in my beautiful Chicago that I call home, let me tell you what’s happening. We’re going to the beach. To the air show. To a fireworks show on the 4th of July. To baseball games and picnics in Humboldt Park. To Puerto Rican fest and pretty much every other festival this city has to offer, and there are many. To concerts and to Millennium Park. To the zoo. We’re having block parties and talking with our neighbors. This summer especially, if you look at my Facebook, we’re living a beautiful life here in Chicago. And don’t get me wrong, we are. We’re taking full advantage of everything this great city has to offer.
But let me tell you what else happens here. Yesterday, my husband didn’t go fishing because at noon, on a Tuesday, there were 20 shots fired less than a mile from us, near the fishing spot at the park. A few weeks ago, my roommate lamented that he’d love to get red Nikes, but he can’t wear them in our neighborhood so what’s the point? It’s not wearing certain football jerseys because of the colors. It’s me asking the question, with hope every time, “Those were fireworks, not gunshots, right?” and being told I’m wrong, to call 911 again. It’s staying home and in the backyard on the actual 4th of July instead of going downtown like we wanted to because we didn’t want to be on the street at night. It’s no one leaves the house alone after dark. It’s crossing the street when coming home late because of the twenty people standing on the corner throwing gang signs. It’s having one of them swing a gun in your direction and walking head down and quickly, trying to get the gate open as fast as possible. It’s calling the police nine times this year because of gunshots and seeing a response twice. It’s learning gang tags and who lives where. It’s not walking north on our street. It’s avoiding the gang member memorial at the end of the block when there are too many people standing there. It’s finding a 9MM shell casing on North Ave. Oh, and it’s paying $1300 a month in rent because our neighborhood is one of the most up-and-coming in the country.
On average, every two minutes someone is shot in Chicago. On average, every eleven hours someone is killed in Chicago. In 2016 alone, 474 people have been killed by gunshots in Chicago. In 2016 alone, 2,589 people have been wounded by gunshots in Chicago. In 2016 alone, 3,063 people have been shot in Chicago. I want you to go back and reread that. Then do it again. Then, for a little perspective, go back to the first paragraph and compare. Ten years mass shootings across the country, 161 killed. One year in Chicago, 474. Ten years mass shootings across the country, 186 injured. One year in Chicago, 2,569 injured. For a little more perspective, 2,996 people were killed on September 11th, 2001. Think about it. More people have been shot in Chicago in a single year than were killed on the deadliest day in US history.
And what do we do? Do we hold vigils or parades? Are all of these murdered ever even recognized by name in our local paper? Do we demand of our politicans answers and strategies? No, we do none of that. We make up names like Chiraq and print it on T-shirts. We profit off of documentaries detailing what a war zone Chicago is. We develop disgusting memes that say, “Chicago, come for the entertainment, stay because you got shot.” We’ve made ourselves a joke, a cartoon. A revoltingly accurate one at that. We don’t do anything. We argue about who’s at fault – is it the BLM movement? Is it the police? Surely it has to be one of those things. We try and argue and pinpoint one specific thing to blame. Because if we have something to blame, we don’t have to really think about it.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s not just one of those things. Maybe it’s the systemic racism and wildly corrupt politics that has held this city captive for years. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the absolute and utter crumbling of the Chicago Public School system, where upper middle class schools have fundraisers and the teachers in the “bad” neighborhoods have to bring their own toilet paper and supplies. Maybe, just maybe, it’s that the opportunities in these bad neighborhoods are few and far between and the kids that are born and raised there don’t know any different than guns and gangs. Maybe, just maybe, when little kids aren’t allowed to ride bikes at night for fear of being shot, they learn that they better be able to shoot. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because it’s pretty clear that no one cares if they live or die.
Likely it’s a combination of all of those things. The BLM and police issues can’t be discounted. They’re part of the rhetoric, problem, and solution, all in their own way. But to point the blame directly at either of them is sticking our heads in the sand.
Because the other thing that can’t be discounted? That can no longer be ignored? Are the 3,063 people that got shot here in less than ten months. The 474 of them whose families will never hug them again. The ones who won’t see their own kids grow up. The ones whose mothers won’t see them graduate high school. Because I think the main thing we have lost sight of here is that all of these gunshots? There are actual people on the other side of them, no matter the decisions they’ve made or the paths they’ve taken. They are PEOPLE, just like the 161 innocents that got the respect and mourning they deserved. We are all humans. We are all living in the land of the free, home of the brave. And yes, we should all matter.