Note: I began writing this essay on September 20, 2013 and finished on October 28th. The issues are still very relevant though.
13 people were shot in a park in the Back-of-the-yards community on the south side of Chicago. Predictably, the police are categorizing the shooting as gang related. Also predictably, the discussion surrounding the shooting will no doubt be about gun control, adding more police on the streets, etc., all while ignoring how past and present segregation, economic disinvestment, school and clinic closings, unemployment, and mass incarceration lead to violence. It’s no accident that violence is concentrated in poor communities, where all of the things mentioned above were purposely created through public policy and violent social control. Poor Black people are not inherently violent; there is nothing pathological about our culture. Closing our schools is violent, closing the few mental health clinics in our communities is violence, not having an adult trauma center is violence, decreasing food stamps is violence, lack of affordable housing is violence, no grocery stores is violence, and incarceration is violence. I fully believe that Mayor Rahm wants to get rid of violence in the city by getting rid of black people. Closing our schools, closing mental health clinics, gentrification, urban removal, all for the purpose of recreating Chicago as a playground for rich white people and businesses.
Back of the Yards is a neighborhood located on the south-west side of Chicago in the community area of New City. The neighborhood extends from 39th to 55th streets between Halsted and Leavitt streets. Known for being the inspiration for Upton Sinclair’s classic work, The Jungle, Back of the Yards has seen many changes over the last century. Annexed by Chicago in the late 19th century, its first inhabitants were European immigrants who worked in the meatpacking industry. Boasted by the location of the Union Stockyard, the community contained many ethnic enclaves of skilled laborers http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/99.html). Like other communities across the city, state, and country, the closing of the meatpacking and livestock industries devastated Back of the Yards. Today, the community is made up of working class Mexican Americans and African Americans. Back of the Yards also has a rich history of activism and community organizations, beginning with the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council.
It disappointed and shocked (even though it shouldn’t have) me that often the first response people had to the shooting was, why was a 3 year old outside at night? No expressions of sympathy or empathy, just victim blaming. Many people contrast the public responses to shootings in Chicago with mass shootings in locations like Newtown and Aurora, Col. The amount of media attention, sympathy, and support that victims of mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora receive vastly outweighs the media attention, sympathy and support that victims of gun violence in Chicago receive.
I think there are several reasons for this. The perception that the South and West sides of Chicago are violent places is strong, and people become desensitized to the violence, and don’t feel the need to care about another person shot. The most obvious difference between Chicago and the Newtown and Aurora is the racial and class differences between the victims. America doesn’t have much sympathy for poor Black people, as evidenced by the victim blaming that occurs when violence happens in Chicago’s poor Black communities. We will do anything to ignore seeing how racial segregation, housing policies, mass incarceration, and an unequal school system are at the root of violence in our city. By saying that, I am not absolving the people committing the violence of responsibility for the harm they cause the victims, victims’ families, and our community. But violence is not an individual problem; it’s not as if violence is happening only once in awhile, it’s happening daily, so its a society-wide problem. Violence is also not just a Black people problem; it’s all of our problem. It affects every single person in this city, whether directly or indirectly. We should all be invested in creating a city free from violence, and to do that we need a city where everyone has their basic needs met, earns enough money to take care of themselves and their families, has access to a high quality education, and lives in safe and clean communities.