So two days before the Cubs miracle finally happened, in the middle of Hocus Pocus on Halloween night, while our wilting jack’o’lanterns were tottering on their final candle-laden legs, we heard them. A dozen rapid-fire gunshots in the alley behind our building. Ryan hoped they were fireworks but knew they sounded different. But after 13 years in Chicago—and especially the last five years under Rahm Emanuel as mayor—I knew exactly what I had heard. Because I’ve heard it so many times before.
After we called 911, the Twitterverse confirmed the dozen gunshots, and the two gang bangers who were running from them. We didn’t hear the additional 20 shots a block in the other direction a few hours later at four in the morning, but witnesses on social media confirmed the location and vehicle they came from.
Those 32 gunshots two blocks from each other in a residential neighborhood never even made it into a news report. Reporters were too busy covering the back-to-back drive-by shootings, one of them fatal, in the next neighborhood over, as well as the 16 other shooting deaths that happened in Chicago over Halloween weekend.
It turned out to be Chicago’s deadliest weekend all year. The deadliest weekend in three years, in fact.
In all, 17 people were murdered and 41 people were wounded. The youngest of the dead was 14 years old. Those deaths capped an October that ended with a homicide total 250% higher than October of last year.
When I watched the midday news the next day, those 17 deaths went by in 15 seconds.
Think about that. Stop. Right here. And think about that. Really do the emotional math on that. For those reading this outside Chicago—and maybe more importantly for those reading this inside this city—this is the measure of how hopeless 2.7 million Chicagoans have become in the face of among the highest gun violence and murder rates in the United States. (Far, far higher than my New York City hometown, which in fact is the safest major city in the nation.)
Even the miraculous joy of the first Cubs World Series championship in 108 years can only cover up momentarily the precariousness of daily life here. The day after they clinched it, two more people died, fifteen more more were wounded. But I wanted to celebrate the loveable winners’ victory and honor the love I still feel, buried deep down, for this, my longtime adopted city. So I pulled this post, which was already written, and wrote Friday’s love letter to my team and my city.
And then early Saturday afternoon, in broad daylight, someone started shooting again. Once more, we both heard it. Once more, Ryan, on his way to the laundry room, didn’t want to believe the 9 big pops we heard out our open windows were gunshots and continued downstairs. Once more, I knew exactly what was happening. After a short lull, a few more shots, then a pause, then a few more. From what I had heard, I had the sickening feeling some of the shots happened at the corner of Sheridan and Thorndale, half a block down the street. Almost immediately in front of our old synagogue, on Shabbat.
Again, Twitter confirmed details. Unlike the Halloween shots, what happened Saturday was heard and witnessed by many. The shooting began near Sheridan, where a bystander lost a window out of the car they were driving. It continued up our alley, where @Chicago_Scanner confirmed an assailant in a Cubs hat and jersey fled between two buildings. Where one of our neighbors looking through her back window confirmed a man in a white t-shirt running for his life. He ended up shot in both legs. For the next half hour, police in vehicles and on foot combed our Edgewater Beach neighborhood and interviewed witnesses in our alley.
Then I had another sickening feeling, so I headed to Uptown Update to confirm my suspicions. And just like the Halloween shootings, Saturday’s daylight shooting in Edgewater followed a multiple shooting hours earlier just down the street in Uptown. I would bet it’s a gang war between drug dealers to the south of us and drug dealers to the north. Their territory changes at Thorndale. Such gang wars are so old news up here that even our Alderman’s office didn’t bother putting with a public safety update in Friday’s ward enews. I wouldn’t hold my breath for one in this week’s enews, either. (Although the next day, DNA Info confirmed the multiple rounds of gunshots–and the mayhem at the corner of Sheridan and Thorndale.)
When Ryan and I moved to Edgewater from downtown Chicago five years ago, I thought I had made peace with the nature of this city. In 33 years living in Queens and Brooklyn, I was mugged one time (as a teenager, with people coming to my aid to fight the muggers with baseball bats, no less), and otherwise never had an issue with gangs or gang violence. In almost 14 years living on the north and northwest sides of Chicago, I’ve been mugged and beaten, had a gang banger deal drugs from the apartment below me, been run out of my own laundry room at another building because it was a gang club house, heard more gunshots out my windows than I’ve probably ever heard on TV in my entire life, walked between gang bangers threatening each other for territory, realized there are entire neighborhoods I would never enter by any means or under any circumstance, and watched my city’s own leaders re-arrange, reschedule, and cangel entirely longstanding public events over fears of rising gang crime.
When Spike Lee called Chicago “Chiraq,” only the people with their fingers in their ears complained. The rest of us simply agreed.
So many people are shot or killed every day, every weekend, every week, every month in Chicago, all across Chicago. So many children. So many bystanders. Almost always due to drug trade-related gang violence. Every morning, a list of the dead online. Every newscast, a list of neighborhoods, a shaken head, and sometimes in less than a second per life, moving right along.
Every now and then, when something about the person violently removed from life might make for good human-interest coverage, we’ll get three minutes of extra coverage about the bystanding pregnant mother, toddler, or in the case of this weekend, honor student. And then the news and the city moves on.
This is what happens when your city needs 1,000 more police officers than it can afford, because for the past three decades your City Hall has been siphoning off tax monies for private development projects.
This is what happens when the political corruption of the 1800s is so entrenched, instead of dying in the Progressive Era, it lasts an additional 126 years and makes it possible for a mayor to turn his back on the majority of people who live in his city. Because they don’t have the money to grease the wheels.
Poor neighborhoods become self-fulfilling prophecies. But it’s really not the neighborhoods laying down those prophecies. It’s the City Hall that pretends to believe that starving public services by re-directing tax streams to the developer project of the day will benefit those services later. Except later in Chicago always invariably involves another developer wanting to siphon another TIF district.
The development community hires a mayor. The mayor repays the development community for giving him a job. And rank-and-file Chicagoans pay for it all. Every now and then we get a parade so we won’t notice.
This is why people leave Chicago. This is why our schools die. This is why our neighborhoods die. This is why our hopes for anything different die.
This is why we die. Seventeen dead in fifteen seconds.
Someday will we even notice at all?
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.