War Up Close & Personal
One night in May, the local news broadcast another story about a shooting in a Chicago alley. Two men, one about 40 and the other in his 20s, were gunned down. Sad to say, one gets used to such news.
About a month earlier, on a Saturday afternoon, a car turned into the alley behind our house, then slowed down; a gun was put to the head of a teenager in the car and fired; the teenager was dumped out of the car—dead—about 60 feet from my garage.
A year before that, two teens were gunned down in a parking lot behind a closed and condemned bar at the corner. While my neighborhood is what they call “gentrifying” (the bar may eventually be turned into a Starbucks) and has never been particularly bad, it still has its rough edges.
During the five years in which I drove a delivery van in Chicago to support my work with Touchstone, I worked many hours on the streets of much worse neighborhoods. Within one neighborhood covering about 12 blocks, I can point out a store where the owner had been knifed to death, another where one had been gunned down, another where a young employee had been killed by “gangbangers” just outside the door, a street where a 14-year-old girl was killed when a stray bullet banged through the back seat of the car in which she was riding, and so on.
This is only what I heard about on the street. At one point, while making my rounds, I myself was held at gunpoint and robbed. That neighborhood, where my eldest son now works as a Chicago policeman, has not changed much, and is still largely at the mercy of drug traffickers and gangs.
Last year more than 600 murders were committed in Chicago. Most of the killings were gang and drug related, so every year in a city like Chicago, several hundred young people are slain because of drugs and gangs, a situation fueled in part by fatherlessness and by drug usage that began to flourish much more above ground in the 1970s.
We are facing a war, not only abroad, but also under our very noses. We are rightly grieved by the deaths of young American soldiers overseas. Would that the killing of hundreds of young American men (about whom some of the politicians claim to be so much concerned) in one American city alone, elicited the same degree of political attention as casualties in Iraq. For it seems some would use those overseas deaths to score political points, while showing little sustained and determined concern over decades of murder in American cities.
Yes, it is dangerous in Iraq. But does anyone think I should allow my 13-year-old son to walk alone after dark in my American neighborhood? And even on that Saturday afternoon, had he been taking out the garbage, he might have witnessed the 19-year-old being shot and dumped out of a car, left to die. And who knows what the shooter would have done to a 13-year-old witness?
Stand Up & Fight
Fortunately, the recent crimes in our neighborhood were unusual; they were committed by criminals from other neighborhoods. And there is little or no drug-dealing in our neighborhood. We did something to make sure there wasn’t.
Several years ago, dealers were selling drugs out of an apartment building around the corner. Several dozen neighbors staked out the building during the evening hours for the better part of a week, bringing a video camera and inviting a local TV news team (they came). Cars slowed down as they approached the building, but then sped off when the drivers realized the “store was closed.” They didn’t want the cameras to record their faces or license plate numbers. The municipal stickers on their windshields showed that most of the cars were from the suburbs.
The dealers moved out and things settled down, relatively speaking. Wars are won only when ordinary people do extraordinary things to resist evildoers. In so doing, they show that they love their neighbors.
—James M. Kushiner
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“War Up Close & Personal” first appeared in the September 2004 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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