A Reporter Explains What Out-Of-Towners Keep Getting Wrong About Chicago Violence

By Chicagoist_Guest in News on Feb 8, 2017 8:00PM

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Students from Parkside Community Academy participate in a march against violence through the South Shore neighborhood on June 21, 2016 in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Evan F. Moore

Last year, I was contacted by a producer to appear in a documentary about Chicago.

The documentary was supposed to show what makes the city special to Chicagoans. He went on to say that my background as a journalist and Chicago native stood out to him. I have a unique take on things, he said, since I grew up and still live in the communities where the violence that often makes national headlines has taken place.

After running down a list of what he liked about my work, he asked me to take him somewhere “relatively safe” on the South Side.

After shaking my head in disbelief, I wrote back asking what his definition of “safe” was. I didn’t hear back from him, but his associate offered a meeting at a coffee shop.

It was clear that the guy wanted to cover the violence in Chicago from a controlled environment. More importantly, he already had a preconceived notion about Chicago that he was going to use to shape his film.

I understand why people want to come to Chicago to document the violence here. After all, Chicago has a long history of it—from Al Capone to Chief Keef. Chicago has always been considered sexy due to the violence. From the outside looking in, many media pundits, parachute journalists, and the people in the comment section in every media outlet known to man seems to believe that black and brown people on Chicago’s South and West Sides are killing each other on a daily basis and no one in those communities seems to care.

They focus on the amount of deaths and shootings, but not the systemic issues that have festered over time. That’s where the meat of Chicago’s problems are at.

Chicago is increasingly a talking point of white supremacists and conservative media. After all, Chicago is often looked upon as everything that can wrong when you let liberals run a big city. President Donald Trump recently threatened to send in the National Guard (or in his words, "the feds"), and recently discussed our city with a select group of black people. Previously, Trump falsely claimed that two people were shot during President Barack Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago. He tweeted the numbers of shootings and killings in Chicago, along with calling our city “War Zone,” in meeting with black “leaders” at the White House.

As you may have noticed, our president, and those who chide our city from the outside, never mention how it's a small sample of hurt people in hurt communities that commit violent acts towards one another. That stance is willfully ignorant of the importance of investing in poverty-fighting practices and anti-gun policies that can help our communities in the long-run.

Some pundits seem to believe that if someone gets shot in Englewood, Pilsen, or North Lawndale then, based on their race and failure to locate themselves in a "quiet" neighborhood, they somehow had it coming.

But many of these neighborhoods are filled with people who are loving, law-abiding people. Many of them are cops, firefighters, teachers, attorneys, social workers, bus drivers, and journalists like myself, among others. If a documentary producer read my reporting, like he said he did, he would know that some of the shootings are happening in certain neighborhoods that are considered quiet. I covered a shooting in South Shore (my native neighborhood) where a stray bullet from a shootout ended up hitting two homes at the end of the block. When I went to the scene, the man who had a bullet hole in a window in his foyer told me that he lived on a quiet block. And I knew that to be the case, because I grew up six blocks away.

I think what national media, and even some local media, miss when looking at Chicago's violence, is that, if a shooting victim is from a neighborhood known for gun violence, or if they have a criminal record, they somehow got what they deserved. Read the comment sections of every media outlet in town for further ignorance on this point. The first comment usually says “When will black people care about black lives?” That’s a racially-loaded way of revealing that some white readers are the ones who don’t care. Remember that some of the first forms of activism in the black community in Chicago were block clubs and in churches. Black people have a long history of giving a shit about their communities.

I believe the best way to document our city’s violence is to be honest. Talk about the systemic issues. For example, for all the flak Spike Lee took for making Chi-raq, there’s a scene in the movie that explains the complex relationship the black community has with the police and the gangs, which ought to be a starting point for anyone who is serious about documenting Chicago’s problems: The gangs are in the communities. We know it, and the police know it. And much more people would get involved in fighting gang violence, but some of them fear retaliation from the gangs. Also, many of those folks won’t go to the police because of the strained relationship they have with them.

For all of you would-be journalists and documentary producers, I say this: If you want to see the alley Tyshawn Lee was murdered in, just ask. If you want to see the spot on Pulaski Road where Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a police officer, just ask. If not, I’m going to take you to a trivia night in Andersonville. And I would show them my native South Shore, where we'd stop by the South Shore Cultural Center (though, if you grew up in South Shore, you still call it the "Country Club.") And I'd show them the very inspiring MLK memorial in Marquette Park.

That may not be what you want but it is what you asked for: to see some of the places that are special to Chicagoans. Next time, keep it real.