"But what about Chicago?"
Too often, this phrase rings out amongst the tongues of people who have never set foot on our soil. And for those that have, they’ve only frequented the intersections encompassed by skyscrapers and posh settings of the food and lodging kind. Everyone wants to talk about Chicago when guns are mentioned, but no one wants to TALK about Chicago when guns are mentioned.
Do you really care about our safety or are we just a talking point amongst politicians who couldn’t be bothered to spend one day in our reality? I started this piece questioning what tense I wanted to write this in, but I feel first person is best because this is the life I’ve lived. These are the streets I’ve walked through and been molded by. I will not claim to be an expert on gun violence here or anywhere else, but I’ve lost enough loved ones to know that it’s not coming to an end anytime soon.
And this isn’t casting a shadow on our city because it’s still a very beautiful place to live and dwell, but it’s infuriating to see the masses package us this way.We are more than guns and deaths and even for those who feel we’re not, what are they doing to help? If all you see beyond our beautiful skyline and classic architecture are clouds of smoke and chalk outlines, what contribution have you made to our communities who deal with these tragedies? It’s easy to talk about a problem without offering an actual solution, especially when it’s not your problem.
With the recent increase in public shootings, somehow Chicago gets mentioned as this epicenter of all things violent. When our tangerine-tainted president was running for office, my city was used as a focal point for the ‘inner-city’ and all its woes. Ironically enough, when that same Cheeto in a suit visited my fair city, he was casted away by the strong and resilient people who live here—the only city to do so. We are not our circumstances and that’s a concept that’s consistently overlooked. We thrive and prosper, despite lacking so much and being pointed out under the guise of pseudo-concern.
Recently Mayor Rahm Emanuel decided to close four high schools in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city, Englewood. If those children aren’t allowed a place to learn and be ’safe,’ what will become of them? How can you cast us as this dark place when you consistently take away our beacons of light?
For some children, school is a way to escape, to get a meal, to receive attention and care. When you rip that from them, you rip a sense of safety and wellness without providing an alternative. This comes right after over fifty elementary schools were closed in the most underprivileged areas. They’re literally being set up to fail. Then after high school, should they be lucky enough to complete it, where are the jobs to have them financially stable? Where are the mental health institutions for these kids or even their parents who need help coping with what they live through? Where are the after-school centers so the kids with late-working parents? The community centers where adults can learn financial literacy or job readiness skills? There is no one reason why we have so many new angels in our city but the aforementioned has a lot to do with these happenstances.
As Carl Sandberg describes us in his poem ‘Chicago,’ we are ‘…Stormy, husky, brawling…City of the Big Shoulders.’ We withstand and uphold through blistering winters, scorching summers, and everything in between. Our city is not perfect, but it’s imperative that we don’t forget the cards we are dealt. We were given a trash hand and have thrown out royal flushes time after time. Damn a lemon, we’ve been tossed lemon seeds and produced frozen lemonade slushies. We’re refreshingly cavalier, yet passionately loving. We hustle and fight and cry and win. We are not your politician’s safe word. We are not your sum-it-all to gun violence. We are not the mules of your campaigns. So when you ask what about Chicago, make sure you’re willing to truly find out.