I became keenly aware of Chicago’s homicide problem in early October when my grandmother died. No my grandmother wasn’t killed. She died of natural causes after a long, and beautiful Christ-filled life. But it was her death, her funeral really, that landed me unknowingly smack, dab in the middle of Chicago’s growing murder rate.
While the murder rate around the nation has dropped drastically in cities all over America, Chicago’s persists in having high homicide rates.The statistics are incomprehensible:
- In 2102, One hundred more people were killed in Chicago in 2012 than soldiers killed in Afghanistan (513 vs 310)
- Chicago, the nation’s third populous city, has a murder rate twice of the larger Los Angles and four times of the larger New York City.
- More people have been killed in Chicago than U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
- 1.4 people a day were killed in Chicago 2012.
These statistics are bad enough but when you think of the real people behind all those bullets it gets even more insane to imagine the carnage that has taken place in this city. And that brings me back to my grandmother’s funeral.
As any black person knows there are PLENTY of funeral homes in Chicago but black people, especially those who came during The Great Migration, use pretty much only a few. One of those being Leaks and Sons near 79th and Cottage Grove.
So when my grandmother died my aunts and uncles worked with Leaks. I left a business meeting to go to her visitation on a Friday night. I’ve been to funeral homes plenty of times, mostly as a reporter. Normally they are private, solemn affairs. But this weekend Leaks was as busy as an amusement park. Walking in there was like visiting purgatory’s waiting room. Crowded.
Bodies, dressed up in funeral finery, were propped up in the hallways because most of the private viewing areas were already filled with bodies, not just wake viewers. I bumped into a group of young men dressed in the sad uniform of south side youth legionnaires- baggy pants and a sweatshirt with the likeness or image of a slain comrade and date of death.
I later learned that one of those young men was a cousin of ours. When you start having family reunions at funeral homes you know something is wrong.
If that wasn’t enough, two days later, as we were driving in the funeral procession, we inadvertently got mingled in with another funeral procession heading out from a West side funeral home. This one was flanked by police escorts and not because there was a city council member inside.
It seems funerals have become a setting for more violence as murders show up to presumably admire their handiwork and comrades are on alert to get revenge. There so many cars at the funeral home that it took us more than hour to go through the procession. Not to mention all the cops lined up and alert on the side of the road preparing for any violence that may erupt because of the burial of a young man who had been shot that week.
When you can’t even bury your dead without violence you know there’s a problem.
Chicago has a death problem. And we seem to be pretty good at ignoring.
I know I was. I left Chicago when I was 17 determined never to come back. I escaped so to speak during a time when drug dealers held court on the corners in the neighborhood where I grew up and crack was the newest thing on the street. My uncles, the same who were at the funeral, minus one who was locked up in county, ran the streets of the West side and to this day are paying for it. Yet even then I knew that if I ever had any trouble, well, they would protect me. It was the same feeling I suppose some daughters have if their fathers are cops. There weren’t that many cops in my neighborhood so my uncles were my last line of defense.
So many years I tried to run from that nightmare and here I was, at 40 seeing what I saw at 14 all over again. It was a sobering experience.
How long can we in Chicago deal in death? How long can we allow generations to live the bad memories of violence? How long can we accept death as the expense of doing business?
Look I’m no bleeding-heart anything. I believe that despite violence, poverty and communities seemed intent on killing us, you can succeed. This isn’t a political issue even though pundits like to make it one. But somehow, some way we have got to end this death.
So in an effort to get beyond just stats, numbers, guns and politicians I’m making it personal. Just as my grandmother’s funeral made the death of Parrish Flornoy, Marivin McFerran, Britney Colvin, Hector Cruz and Jonthan Williams – all were shot and killed the weekend of my grandmother’s funeral – real to me. I hope me writing about the people who get shot in Chicago will make their deaths real to you.
Until we feel each and every death in Chicago we will not be motivated to do something about it. In the coming weeks I’ll write more about the people who have lost their lives in Chicago. For now here are the names of those killed in the City of Big Shoulders this first week of the year 2013. Remember their names. In that memory maybe we’ll find the solution.