Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Neighborhood

Last week on a balmy mid-October evening, I got home late after attending an event in the Loop. Shortly after I got off the train and began my walk home, I heard the sound of sirens coming from every direction. It was pretty clear to me what was going on when I noticed that the overwhelming majority of flashing lights headed my way were blue, not red. My suspicions were confirmed the next morning when I checked the news; someone had been shot.

Most of the police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck came to rest about two blocks from me. Other cop cars were patrolling the neighborhood in search of a perpetrator. Thinking back on it now, it was probably my safest walk home in the twelve years we've lived in our current home. Considering the pleasant weather, the streets were filled with people, many of whom headed in the direction of the incident. Perhaps twenty years ago I might have joined them out of curiosity, as I was a bit of an ambulance chaser back in the day. Now however, needing little to remind myself of my own mortality, I'm much less inclined to seek out the misery of other people.

Not so for my neighbors. I'd go so far as to say there was almost a festive atmosphere on the street as the excitement broke up the tedium of everyday life, or at least took people's minds off the Cubs who were at that very moment in the process of being eliminated form the playoffs.

There was nothing in my neighbors' reactions that would indicate anything bad or even all that unusual was taking place. The next day as I walked my regular route past the scene of the crime, leaves fell from trees, kids were on their way to school, and adults on their way to work headed to their cars or like me to the train. A large American flag hung from a flagpole in front of a tidy clapboard house which stood near the spot where the shooting took place. Halloween decorations, your typical pumpkins, ghosts and spider webs, adorned many other homes. There was no indication at all that anything bad happened the night before, no police tape, no dried blood or body outlines in the street, no TV crews or reporters scoping out the scene.

The sad fact is that shootings are not unusual events in this city. The news reports I saw the following day informed me this was one of three shootings in Chicago that day. Doing the math, that number is low. From a quick search of the web, so far this year there have been 2133 shootings in Chicago. Given that roughly 300 days have gone by in 2015, on an average day over seven people get shot in our fair city. Just for the sake of argument, 377 of those who got shot in Chicago this year died, while there were 43 non gun related homicides in the city in the same period.

From the news report I read, in this particular shooting, a man walked up to another man on the street and shot him in the chest. The victim was taken to the local hospital a few blocks down the street from our house. At last report, he was in serious condition. For all I know he could be back on the street looking for payback, as medical science is so amazing these days. Another sobering item in the report was the time of the crime, 8:12PM. I distinctly remember looking at my watch as I got off the train that evening. It was just short of 8:15, meaning that had I left the downtown event a few minutes earlier and caught the previous train, I very likely could have been walking by the scene as the crime was taking place.

But it was the sheer banality of the experience that troubled me the most, including my own attitude. By the time I got home and was embraced by my children, the whole experience was put on the back burner where it has been bubbling over for almost one week.

I don't particularly fear for my own safety in my neighborhood, but I certainly fear for the safety of my wife and kids who could someday find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I fear for my neighborhood and the city I love dearly. And I fear my own attitude which shows little compassion for gang bangers who feel compelled to kill each other, or anyone else who happens to be in their way. After all they're still some poor mother's child, human beings just like the rest if us, despite the way they behave.

On the other hand, I'm sick and tired of the stupidity of guns and violence, of street gangs and teenagers having indiscriminant. unprotected sex and giving birth to children they have no intention of caring for. I'm tired of our society rejecting the idea of personal responsibility and blaming everyone and everything but criminals for their crimes.

As much as I love our life in the city, sometimes I wish I could take my family away, far away. This evening as I walked home from the train past the site of the shooting, it was raining and about twenty degrees cooler than last week. The goons who typically roam the neighborhood looking for trouble when the weather is nice were conspicuously absent. For some reason the crime rate goes down whenever the weather gets bad meaning things should temporarily be getting better.

I never thought I'd say this, but winter can't come soon enough.

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