To: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel & 40th Ward Alderman Patrick O’Connor
Fr: A Concerned Citizen
Re: Breaking News Headline on today's Chicago Tribune’s Website:“Chicago has deadliest start to the year in nearly two decades”
I write this not sure if either of you will ever read it. Perhaps when it lands in the inbox of whatever functionaries open your constituent mail, it will end there, never to see the light of day or your eyes.
And even if it does miraculously get passed on to you, perhaps you will ignore it, unable to actually answer my question: “What are you doing to end the daily violence that is overtaking my city?”
Now maybe this question seems like the constant drone of a summer no-see-‘em, ever circling, and no matter how many times you take a swipe at it, it doesn’t go away.
Nor, unfortunately, does the violence.
In fact, like most cancers that go untreated, the violence has metastasized throughout our city, making its inevitable way into more neighborhoods from where it initially gained a foothold. In West Rogers Park, for instance, where I live, Alderman O’Connor’s website lists for February alone four “Shots Fired” and one “Shooting.” In many ways, I'm sadly not surprised at this list; since I moved into Alderman O'Connor's ward last spring, I have been awakened by gunshots on more than one occasion.
But I realize that this is nothing compared to what goes on daily on the south and west sides of Chicago, where shootings and killings are commonplace, where poverty, a lack of opportunity, and especially segregation fuel the violence.
Here’s how the recent New Yorker article on Father Michael Pfleger describes this reality: “Fifty years after [Dr. Martin Luther] King’s visit to Marquette Park, Chicago remains one of the country’s most racially segregated large cities….Some of those [neighborhoods] are poorer than they were at the time of King’s marches. In Englewood…poverty has grown from twenty-seven per cent, in 1970, to forty eight per cent today.”
But before I cast too many stones in the direction of Chicago’s elected officials, I will confess my own sin of omission, express my own sense of shame for not having figured out what I might do to ameliorate this awful reality for so many of my fellow citizens, a small number of whom I encountered while teaching at the University of Illinois/Chicago and most recently at Truman College.
I saw these students from our city’s routinely disenfranchised neighborhoods often make heroic efforts to succeed and despite such formidable odds, including having been passed along and graduated from Chicago public high schools with grade-school level reading and writing skills.
And then there is my notable sin of commission: voting the Democratic ticket throughout the last 50 years, naively assuming that the mayors and the aldermen I supported, ones I believed shared my bleeding heart liberal sensibilities, would certainly at some point rectify whatever previous decisions had kept entire portions of my city unlivable, virtual crime scenes for generation upon generation.
But not only hasn’t that happened; per the New Yorker article, things have gotten worse under Democratic “leadership,” although Mayor Harold Washington, may he rest in peace, did give many of us hope.
Gentlemen, I’d originally planned to contact both of you about the matter of “aging in place” in Chicago, a concern many of us older residents have, one that touches on affordability, urban design, and access to public transit.
For now though the idea of aging in a violent place is so much more urgent—and not only for your older residents.