On Sunday, anyone who subscribes to the New York Times (or fine, reads it online, in which it is a huge multi-media piece) saw a huge, front-page special report on the violence in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend, in which more than 50 shootings left six people dead as the long and hot summer juddered into a violent beginning. This has already been an apocalyptic year in Chicago, for reasons we’ll explore as the summer moves on.
The story is a series of excellently-reported rapid-fire vignettes, weaving in and out of the shootings, which are of course concentrated almost entirely on the south and west sides (though three of the fatalities, oddly, are up north, one near O’Hare). This is where I admire the Times piece, as it only briefly mentions that most of Chicago is very peaceful, and many of us are not touched even obliquely by violence. It instead portrays the city as a nightmare of murder, of random gunfire, of targeted killings and counter-killings, as a place of escalating violence where nihilism runs the streets and decent citizens live in expectation of being next. It’s easy for those not affected by it to shrug it off, saying that there are two Chicagos. The Times piece forces us to confront as a problem for the city, not just a problem somewhere in the city. It removes all remove.
To me, one of the most striking parts is the reaction people have to being shot. “Babe, they shot me” or “I’ve been shot!” I know- what else are you going to say? But I imagine for many of us our reaction would be bewildered terror, an inability to comprehend what is going on. One minute we are watching TV in our homes or standing on the porch or driving down Lake Shore, and the next, gutshot and bleeding. I doubt I’d understand what happened when a stray bullet caught me. That everyone in the story is instantly aware is a sure signifier of the huge gulf in our lives, the shame of Chicago, and of a country that has bred this vicious nihilism.