As of June 25th 84 more Americans have been killed on the streets of Chicago than in Afghanistan (credit CBS 2 Chicago.) Just last weekend in an alley behind Devon and Western an older disabled gentleman collecting metal to support his family was killed by youths in a cruel game called “Knock em Out.” The sound of the crack of his head on pavement and the visual of him hitting the ground was posted on Facebook in an act of malevolent hubris. Police are telling us that the overall rate of homicide is trending down here over the previous years, but it is up 35% this year over last and every Sunday, the Tribune is reporting a body count from the night before. There is talk of tourism suffering and the perception of Chicago taking a beating. And though I do not like this, I am glad that many of those I love live far away from the city I love.
For years violent crime rates had been dropping and cities which seemed so dangerous were once again starting to take on an air of civility. My perception of my city was the same. For years this was the place of joy and love. Traveling down the river with Ralph and Marina staring up at the steel and glass monsters was one of the best birthdays I ever had. Walking alone through the Art Institute staring at wall upon wall of the human soul eased my loneliness. The Kristkindl Mart and walking in Hyde Park gave my life a certain wistfulness. High tea and coffeehouses brought me companionship. And walking eight miles from downtown to my home through vibrant neighborhoods filled with beautiful people reminded me of the drives down Clark Street when I first moved here glad to escape the provincialism of my home state and to be in a place that was so happy and alive.
This summer things have changed. I wonder if the city can be redeemed. I wonder if the current mayor cares. I wonder if I can feel the joy of the place again. I tell myself the arc of history is long and that perhaps it is only one summer….that places like people have some seasons that are better (or worse) than others. I hope that is true.
It would be nice to look back on this years from now and say that after I wrote these words, things did become better. And perhaps that will be true. But they will not be better for the families and those who have already suffered too much this summer. This year of violence has created for too many a sadness never to be forgotten. And for the rest of us, so many who love this city, the discontent will also be a thing not soon forgotten.