Not long after the shots are fired and the bodies hauled away, blood drying on the asphalt, dirt and grass in a corner of our neighborhoods, I hear the words often said by a parent, by a neighbor, by community leaders that he or she—the victim or victims of Chicago gun violence—was at the “wrong place at the wrong time.”
At the very root of that conviction is one of the most terrible facts of life for Chicagoans in every neighborhood. When something bad happens, or we think something bad will happen, we imagine it to be when we’re at the “wrong place, wrong time.”
There in lies the horror.
In a functioning community, there should be no such thing as “wrong place, wrong time.”
In a functioning community, our children should be able to walk safely down a sidewalk to go to school, to go to the playground, to go home without fear.
In a functioning neighborhood, we should be able to walk to the bus stop or ‘L’ station, walk the parkways, go to work, go to the store, have fun in our entertainment districts without fear—without fear that we will be hit by a flying punch, or as is too often the case, a bullet plunging into flesh, crushing into bone, a death blow, another life snuffed.
“Wrong place, wrong time” is an unacceptable explanation in the aftermath of violence on Chicago’s streets.
In a functioning city, “right time, right place” should be the Truth of our living and working.
When we cannot say that, those we have charged to account are not doing their jobs, failing miserably at its stewardship of basic principles of community—that we are entitled to public safety, that we are entitled to peace of mind when we go about our days and nights on our own streets, our own porches, our own homes.
I do not doubt that our mayor, our superintendent and his commanders, and our aldermen, want to cut the crime. But it cannot effectively do it without cutting the bullshit.
And here’s the bullshit.
Our crime problem is rooted in a rotten foundation, where uplift is lost to an unwillingness to address the fact that thousands of youth are without the resources to move, to act upward and outward from adverse conditions.
When we don’t provide proper schools in each neighborhood, equipped with the proper tools to teach and engage, staffed by educators inspired and treated with the utmost dignity, pride and respect for the challenge they face, our youth then choose failed means of survival, guided by the misguided, into one-way dark alleys of petty hoodlumism, and even doom and death.
When we don’t provide parents with the tools to help raise their children in good health—whether it’s access to quality healthcare in their own neighborhoods, or enrichment programs for latchkey kids before and after school, or affordable, proper nutrition in the cafeteria, or from the corner grocer, or pantries for the food insecure—we release our youth to a type of self-sufficiency that inspirits harm, of themselves and of others.
When we don’t produce jobs, don’t invite, encourage, and support commerce to take charge of the “Main Streets” in our neighborhoods—fostering responsible identity, enlivening dreams to go beyond adversities, providing financial means to care for themselves and for loved ones—we submit our youth to dereliction and the masters of it.
Crime is born of a rotting foundation, covered up by bullshit—the unwillingness of our leaders to address the real causes, or of they are willing, move more aggressively on them.
Until we can replace the rotten base and till the soil, establish new groundwork, more shots will be fired, more bodies hauled away, more blood stains will mark the sidewalks of our Chicago cityscape. And we’ll hear the crying refrain of families that their loved one was in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”