Lately, the headlines have not been very flattering about my hometown of Chicago. Following the publishing of the FBI’s 2012 Crime Statistics, Chicago won the dubious honor of being titled the “Murder Capital of the US”.
To stop myself from going into a long spiel on the injustice of this label, and the damage that it causes, I’m going to share a well-written and well-supported article by Mason Johnson showing that “Chicago’s Not Actually the ‘Murder Capital’ of, Well, Anything.” It’s well worth the read.
Much that is said in the article hits close to home for me – both figuratively and literally speaking. I live on the west side of Chicago, and work at a health center in the under-served community of North Lawndale – one of the neighborhoods known as “Chiraq,” a term used to liken the experience of many people in certain neighborhoods to living in a war zone. (Check out this article from the Chicago Tribune explaining the use and misuse of the term, and the negative effects that can come from such a label.)
With all the bad press that Chicago – or at least, certain parts of it – has been receiving, I want to emphasize a final point that Mason Johnson makes in his piece.
“These neighborhoods are, well, just that… neighborhoods. They’re families and schools and stores and playgrounds. They’re not statistics. They’re not homicide rates. They’re not the violence that assaults them, nor are they “war zones.” If this is the impression you get of these neighborhoods, you are not only wrong, you are ignorant. These neighborhoods are filled with a lot of people who want nothing but the best for the places they call home.”
Chicago has been reduced to a bunch of misinterpreted numbers, but we don’t have to leave it there. Murder statistics have faces and names, and violence-ridden communities have hopes and dreams. What if, instead of murder stats and mistaken conclusions, people and groups that are working to make this city a safer place made the headlines? What if, instead of embracing a metanarrative that only furthers the marginalization of the people it presumes to describe, we empowered people to tell their stories and to name their goals and dreams?
A bullet went through my coworker’s car window last week, as she and her husband and children were driving through the wrong place at wrong time. By God’s grace no one was harmed, but a six-year-old boy didn’t fall asleep until 2:00am that night, and a family that can ill-afford it needs to replace a car window before winter comes. “But still, we praise God,” as my coworker said.