What a girl from America’s most dangerous neighborhood wants you to know about violence in the inner city
What it’s like and how to fix it, from someone who’s actually been there
Violence surrounds me. I’m not quite sure how it's shaping me, but I know I cry about it at night and try not to think about it during the day. Maybe this is my survival strategy.
I grew up in Englewood. Located on the Southside of Chicago, it’s one of America’s most dangerous and violent neighborhoods.
I’ve had two cousins shot, friends’ lives changed through gangs and guns. I can recall getting off the bus after school on 71st Street, and there in front of me was a person shot dead as police pulled up to the scene.
Most people I went to middle school with are either dead or have been shot once, twice or more. A guy from my school last year was shot six times.
I've seen children on the bus with ragged clothes and uncombed hair on their way to school not because they want to, but because it’s the only way they’ll get a hot meal. In our neighborhood, this is the reality – and the reality of most of my friends and family.
So many of us living here have become numb to the daily routine:
You just blink and wonder where they're going. “I hope they aren’t heading my family’s way.”
But here’s what many people don’t know: you don’t really become numb to it. Every incident piles on top of the last one. Every shooting edges up the fear. The scariest thing is not knowing when or where someone will strike back.
I want people to know that seeing so many young African-Americans hurting each other hurts us as young African-American women.
We fear our brothers will be taken from us. We fear losing the boy we once called boyfriend or best friend.
Something about me: I avoid guys who I believe are at a higher risk of not living past 20. It may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. I don’t want to attend a funeral, I don’t want to be targeted, I don’t want my family to get hurt because a guy I once loved hurt me so much it hurts them.
But I’ve also learned not to judge a book by its cover. I have met some of the toughest guys “on the block.” They hang out protecting their neighborhood because they are the only ones who will.
We can’t rely on the police. I’ve seen them do more discriminating and killing than “serving and protecting.” They bring fear without catching the right people. So who else will do it?
Those tough guys on the block have bought all the kids ice cream, made sure the kids have shoes on their feet, see that the younger ones attend school, and sometimes even teach them life lessons. I mean really good ones. I can recall one conversation about teaching young kids to stay strong. “Now get on to school!” they’d yell. Those interactions change perspectives on our daily situation and gives a new grasp on our reality.
That's the thing you don’t know about the “tough guys on the street”: they only know what they've been exposed to. Those guys only know the streets. They haven't been given a ton of opportunities. They don’t always have the luxury of choosing a job or school. For so long, no one has given our young males the chance to show what they are capable of doing, so they seek help from the streets. If they hadn't not been pushed to the side for so long, I think gun violence would be much lower.
After reading all of this, you might wonder what can be done to improve the situation. You must try to understand the dynamics of inner city violence instead of listening to Donald Trump's dog whistles and scare tactics. In fact, do the exact opposite of what he's doing. So here it is from someone who knows it inside and out:
We need to implement stricter gun laws.
We need to improve community schools and start teaching students as individuals instead of ID numbers on a scantron. A high number of African-Americans students are failing out as early as third grade because they are not given the right tools to success.
We need to fix the Chicago Police Department and forces like it. There are so many bad cops out here doing more harm than good — I’ve seen officers using excessive force and racial profiling personally.
We need to provide our community's youth with jobs and after school programs. If kids are busy, it will decrease the likelihood of being shot or ending up in the hands of CPD.
And — this might be the hardest one to discuss and implement — we must create opportunities for kids with violent backgrounds. There is nothing wrong with offering a second chance. Someone once said, “Second chances are not given to make things right but to prove we can be better even after a fall.” That's the key here.
I say we move forward, make Black people feel included in society. We feel so excluded from the world that we make our own ways of living, forced to make nothing into something. “We can’t, we won’t, we cannot afford, we are unable” are words you hear in my community too often. If we turn those “can nots” into can “dos”, we’ll achieve so much more.
My community feels that there’s an us and a them. How about making all of us one? Aren't we Americans too?
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