Murder in the Windy City

The news often shows mothers crying over the loss of their sons and daughters to gun violence. As a father, I feel as much fear about the harm of my children as any other mother. I see a young boy die in a crossfire and I watch grief struck, too.

I remember my first trip to the Windy City, Chicago and home to the Bulls, Cubs, White Sox, and the Blackhawks. Rich in culture, Chicago is one of the great American cities. Violence there removes much of its luster. It did then and it does now.

When I went to visit my friend from college around 1987, we had left a Pizzeria Uno. With one wrong turn and a half of a mile drive, we found our car at a Church’s Chicken and the base of a tenement. We were at the infamous Cabrini Green. As we opened our window to seek direction, his sister jumped out to get directions and shortly our car was being encircled as a gunshot emanated from the upper floors of the building.

My friend drove off with his sister in the restaurant and I feared for her. She was the age of my current daughter. I was mortified and forced the driver to go get his sister. I wondered to myself, “How did we end up in Cabrini Green in the middle of a Crack Cocaine War?”

Happily, we got back to his home safely nestled in a tree laden street in Deerfield, Il.

Fast forward thirty years later and we witness Chicago fall back into decay. The difference is that I now fear for the safety of my own daughters. As Much as I would like to take them north, the more I fight myself. The dangers expressed by Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton during the 2016 presidential suggested that Chicago is “out of control” with gun violence. The rate of homicide, for example, has exploded since 2014. It is not worth the risk to take my children there.

Though one murder is too many, it happens with saddening regularity. Ranked number 8 for murder in 2016, behind notables such as Detroit, St. Louis, and Baltimore, Chicago is a little different than the others. Namely, Chicago has a unique crime story to tell.

In the 1930s, the Windy City was home to tremendous mafia wars during Prohibition – murder reigned. In the 1970s, the rise of the Folk and People Gang Nations launched a high tide of homicide. And, through 1992, crack cocaine fueled higher rates of crime than many other American cities.

Making sense of the current surge in violence in Chicago seems so easy when watching the news on television or seeing videos on social media, but it is not. First, homicide is not exploding equally throughout Chicago, the majority of its growth is isolated to five districts. Second, looking at the raw number of homicides, 778 in 2016, is misleading. The rate of homicide in Chicago (taking into account its population size of 2,724,121) is lower than the deadliest years in the 1980s through 1992. Yes, there is danger in Chicago but its current level of violence still does not match the height of the crack cocaine wars of the past.

Even with these statistical facts, my desire to travel with my daughters has reached an all-time low. Though we would not travel to those five districts, I stay away. I can’t imagine how many people feel the way I do, but I don’t think that I’m alone. It saddens me when I see a child die for no reason in Chicago. But, I am also saddened that I will not take my kids to stand on the Ohio Street Bridge to look at the beautiful river below. My children are the ones who lose, I have seen the beauty there and miss it all because of the always threatening specter of gun violence.

Adam Day