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my (now) Outsider’s look at Chicago Violence

    I seem to be torn from two sides. For instance, I’m a tall girl, and I’m strong enough to choose to live alone in a dangerous Chicago neighborhood. I’ve shot guns, I’m married to a Marine who is a hunter and a martial arts specialist. I can handle myself under pressure, and because I’m an emotional girl, I keep my violent side in check.
    That, and I’m a vegetarian. (Apparently one of my ways to control violence around me is to not support the killing of animals when we don’t need to.)
    I’ve done my best to process the violence in my past that has almost killed me, and as a Chicago girl and a poet, I ran a Chicago poetry open mic for over half a decade before I had to move away, because of a job. (But trust me, I’ll still go to bars in Austin TX to watch a Bears Game because it’s not on network television here; I’ll do anything to keep my Chicago roots).
    But when running that open mic, the mantra was to allow anyone to perform — I mean, I only vote Libertarian now and my only Democrat vote was for Bill Clinton in the ‘90s... But at my open mic I had to tolerate near-Communist poets reciting un-researched theories (and when their philosophies wouldn’t solve their problems, I’d think, if you think that way, then get the f out of this country, but I was trained to be tolerant as the host, so just try to tune out the drivel).
    I’ve witnessed violence on many levels... I got out of a stranglehold from an ex gang banger. I’ve helped people as an acquaintance rape education counselor, and I’ve helped women when being chased from physically abusive husbands. I’ve avoided threatening situations when I was alone at night in a questionable Chicago neighborhood because I was a woman and a minority there. And during all this I’ve witnessed a variety of sides politically, and it seems the vitriol has only escalated during the current presidency (a presidency with a first term White House Chief of Staff who later became the Mayor of Chicago).
    And the thing is, when people ask me where I’m from, I proudly say Chicago, and then I go on to explain that the architecture and skyline in this city are unparalleled, and that there are not only ton of summer neighborhood events in this blues town but also an amazing richness to the cultural diversity. If people mention the violence they hear of there, I stress the minute area any violence occurs, and I would still recommend the City of the Big Shoulders to anyone who looks for the best place in the United States to visit.
    Okay, I got my PSA for the beauty of Chicago out there for you...
    Which brings me to what I’ve witnessed in Chicago. It made it’s way into the general public in the past year in a mini-series about violence in specific neighborhoods in Chicago, and about how high school students could not safely get to their schools. Seeing this series highlighted the efforts of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to keep neighborhoods safe (when statistics did for a while show that violence in the city annually was going down). But random shooting in a select few four block areas were the only thing you saw on Chicago’s local news, and recently (not that I’ve moved across the country) I see that violence on select Chicago streets is even making it to the national stage.
    And now that I’m an outsider to the Windy City (named not for the strong winds between the high rises next to Lake Michigan, but the windiness of the local politicians) I watch the news reports and learn that the violence in Chi-Town has given Chicago the nickname Chi-raq, due to intense gang activity and the perceived worsening of shooting incidents (sometimes blamed in part on the demolition of inner-city housing projects). Even in Chicago I was used to hearing the news of shooting deaths after every weekend, but then one news story came across the 24 hour cable media that I couldn’t avoid.
    Because (According to the Chicago Tribune) on October 20 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was running down the middle of Pulaski Road near 41st Street when Officer Jason Van Dyke, standing next to his SUV, opened fire. Apparently the City turned over evidence in this case — including this video (https://youtu.be/Ix2N6_jLAgA) — to prosecutors a few days after the incident. A year and a month later Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, and then this video was released to the public.
    The video is disturbing to watch. When I saw it, I could see that at 9:57 PM (about 5½ minutes into the video) McDonald was walking down the street and away from police officers (there was clearly nothing in his right hand, and he wasn’t moving to or turning toward police — and even if he did have a knife, he was always more than 10 feet away from police officers). Then you could see the flash of the first shot from Officer Van Dyke (keep in mind, this is the first of 16 shots in 15 seconds fired into McDonald), which spun McDonald 230 degrees before he fell to the street.
    He did not use his arms to break his fall.
    Or protect his head.
    Watching the next seconds of the video, you could see McDonald crumpled on the ground, on his side, and then you can see dust from more bullets fired at him from Officer Van Dyke. You could see McDonald’s arm move and his head lift, before more shots were fired, and McDonald was dead on the scene.
    According to the Chicago Tribune, “Van Dyke’s partner told authorities there was a brief pause in the shots and he saw Van Dyke reloading, so he told Van Dyke to hold his fire so he could approach and disarm McDonald.”
    (Yes, Van Dyke was reloading, so he could continue to shoot McDonald, laying there, already shot multiple times by him, on the street.)
    Cops drove up, got out of their car, moved to other officers; no one looked to check McDonald’s condition (though this dash cam video only lasted for a minute and 20 seconds after Van Dyke started shooting).

    I understand the concept of feeling personally threatened when in public (just today walking alone along the streets when a large van pulled up and stopped their van 20 feet in front of me, I instinctively fit my keys between the knuckles of my closed hand, so in case I was attached I could possibly get a punch in that could draw some blood before I got away). I can understand the camaraderie between police officers (people who every day potentially put their life on the line support each other, in the same way soldiers think of all others in their group as brothers you’d fight to the death for). And maybe I’m not a cop (and I’d never want to be one, trust me), but when other cops were there to help me — like in this case — I don’t know how threatened I’d feel of one black kid walking down the street away from me.
    And if my one shot made him pinwheel to the ground, I don’t know if I’d still feel threatened enough to shoot someone on the ground 15 more times in 15 seconds.

    I had moved away from Chicago by the time this report hit the national news, and it appeared that Mayor Emanuel was taking a stand by charging Officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder (and even firing police Superintendent McCarthy). Maybe this would be a sign that excessive use of guns against Chicago teens may change...
    Peaceful protests filled Chicago streets after the release of this shooting video, because this is not the first time a black person was shot dead by the Chicago police in recent years. To quote CNN:
    “Chicago began being called the murder capital of the United States back in 2012, after it registered 503 homicides, more than any other city. It didn’t get much better, with the FBI’s 2014 statistics showing 411 killings — more than the 333 in New York and 260 in Los Angeles, two cities with higher populations.”
    There have been 20 allegations against Van Dyke (for thing like the use of excessive force against a black man) and the police did nothing over the years in regard to Van Dyke about these allegations. So yes, I was looking for a light at the end of this racism tunnel and found this first-degree murder charge.
    But it still makes me pause. This video was released over a year after this incident. Why did it take so long to deduce that criminal charges to be filed? I search for answers, and no one has them. All I have heard (and this is only speculation, let me stress this again, I have no proof) is the Mayor Emanuel wanted this case hushed up for a while because he was running for reelection.
    Well, he got his reelection, and now everyone is demanding he step down as Mayor because of the case.
    Not that he’ll step down; I’d just really like to see how he thinks he’ll get out of this hole.

    Now, I know one case could be enough to make you pause and reflect (like the Ferguson trials did), but this is Chicago, it’s not like this racial shooting by a cop is an isolated incident. And yeah, I could turn to the New York Daily News, or NPR, or even People magazine, but I think I’ll continue to stick with my Chicago Tribune (I know, I know, it’s my Chicago bias) for the story:
    According to contact reporters Megan Crepeau, Jeremy Gorner and Grace Wong for the Chicago Tribune, police responding to a call about a domestic disturbance just after Christmas (Saturday December 26th at 4:30 a.m), shot and killed a 19-year-old engineering student — the 19-year-old, Quintonio LeGrier, who was carrying a baseball bat and threatening his father. A police source said no gun was recovered at the scene.
    (These are the moments when I still life singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” over and over again...)
    But wait, the story gets better (or should I say worse). Bettie Jones (a 55-year-old mother of five) was a downstairs neighbor who was asked by LeGrier’s father to watch for the arrival of the police. And somehow, according to police, she was “accidentally” shot and killed too.
    An ex state police officer once explained that if he went on a domestic disturbance call, he wouldn’t bring his gun in the house with him. Because that might make tensions worse, and someone might get shot, like himself or anyone in the house, which was the last thing anyone wanted.
    Who knows, maybe when you’re responding to a domestic disturbance call in West Garfield Park in Chicago you go in with guns drawn. Maybe you go in trying to make the situation better but end up shooting people, making the situation a whole lot worse.
    I don’t know if it is because of a change over the year of requiring police officers to have bachelor’s degrees in college before they could be hired (and don’t get me wrong, getting a college education is paramount in my book), but these people fresh out of school lack experience dealing with people in the streets, which may sometimes be a better way to keep the peace. Maybe the psychological tests weed out those people who would actually make good, safe cops and admit those who are quick on the trigger.
    And the West Side tragedy was the first police shootings that Saturday (once again, happy belated Christmas). On the far South Side police responded to an “assault in progress”, and shot a man (where they then took him to the hospital I was born in and almost died in years later).
    So although these reports seem commonplace in Chicago, cases like this one now seem to be getting a little more light because of the McDonald shooting.
    Don’t know if it’ll do any good. Illinois is the state where our governors make our license plates (since half of our past governors are serving time in prison), and Illinois and Chicago’s pattern of cronyism helped get an inexperienced first term Senator into the Oval Office. Crain’s Chicago Business even named Chicago the “most politically corrupt city in the U.S.”, so... When I see the further increase of taxes in Chicago (like most liberal cities do, take more money from the people who make money here, that will help the city) I see that Chicago flag with too many frayed edges. I don’t know how good of a seamstress you have to be to keep the flag together, when so much is tearing it apart.

    Janet Kuypers
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Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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