Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hard times

It's been a while since I've talked about living in a neighborhood in crisis, but since crisis seems to have found us again, it's probably fair to reflect a little . . . even on this crisp, quiet morning, with prisms of sun streaming in through our dining room window, with families walking to nearby churches through glittery snow, and it hardly seems possible anything terrible could happen here.

There have been two shootings on our block since February 3rd. These aren't shootings under cover of night, in houses where there might have been a dispute over money, or love. These are open-air shootings, one just before 7pm and one in broad daylight at 3:00, just as the nearby elementary school was letting out. Both cases involved groups of teenagers, mostly boys, but reports of a girl or two in the mix. In both cases a car had just gone by, and in both cases after shots were fired, the kids jogged -- not ran, sprinted, or jumped into a speeding car, but jogged -- up the street, guns visible at their sides. Fortunately, in both cases, no one was physically hurt.

These are brazen acts. They're acts of bravado by people with no fear of being caught. My work has put me in contact with a many people who work in street intervention, and the signs point to these kids probably living in the area, protecting new or reclaimed turf against rival gangs or drug dealers.

Jobs are disappearing all over, and it's no surprise people will turn to the underground economy. With that comes all the standard peripheral impacts: Strangers coming through the neighborhood to buy. Police stretched even thinner than before. Kids with guns, marking their territory. Couple that with the State budget crisis, which has defunded successful programs like Ceasefire, and you've got a volcano on your hands.

There's a part of me, in melancholy moments, that's started to wonder how long I can stay here. Can I continue to walk my dog, take my morning run, kiss my husband good-bye as he leaves for long trips or even just a bike ride out to see a friend? That same part of me is almost grateful for the crumbling real-estate market: Our house has lost over 25% of its value in the last two years, and that alone will keep many of us here who might have fantasies of simpler, more manageable places.

So we persevere. I take great comfort in seeing friends with kids, or our wonderful nonagenarian neighbor Mildred, sticking around. If they can do it, so can I. But here's the difference: When something similar happened a few years ago, we drew together to forge a solution. We put a block group in place. We went to our community policing meetings. We tended front-yard gardens and had neighborhood clean-ups and block parties and yard sales. But now we've done all those things, and the violence remains. It's worse, actually, because it's so bold and so present. It's the ghost you thought you extinguished, coming back to haunt you, stronger and harder to discern than before.

In my heart I believe things will get better around here. I also believe they may get worse before they do. If this is February, what's July going to feel like? I don't even have any pep talks for myself, because this increasingly seems a problem larger than all its possible solutions. And I worry about becoming someone I hate: Someone who retreats into the house rather than adding my eyes to the street; someone governed more by the heart than the head; someone who profiles.

I may have to make peace with those weaknesses (at least some of them). But I'm hopeful I won't lose my appetite for amazement.
Sweet neighborhood, I'm listening.


Rosemary said...

Oh, Christy--that's scary, all right. Not just the shootings, but the desperation (of the kids) and the helplessness (of the neighbors).

I'm actually wondering, though, if July would be *better*, in that more people would likely be outside, keeping an eye on things?

I've been thinking a lot about isolation this winter, for various reasons, but mostly because of the crap weather. It's easy to turn deeply inward this time of year.

So I wonder if these acts being committed so openly is partly *because* the kids know people won't come outside to intervene in the winter, won't band together as successfully with each other as they would if they saw each other on the street, and it was warm enough to chat, more regularly?

Here's hoping that may at least be part of it, for everyone's sake.

leslie said...

Christy, I worry.

Berdawn said...

I am saddened by your post and for the lives that the young people in your neighborhood are living. Having done all the "right" things and yet still having such things happen can be profoundly shocking. I hope you are able to keep doing what you're doing to create community and not let the disappointment breed anger or bitterness...quite a feat this time of year, I know, but worthwhile if you can do it.

Christy said...

I just wanted to thank everyone for their concern and encouraging words. It's been quiet this last week -- a shame when you measure out your comfort levels week by week, but given this last stretch, I'll gladly take it.

I'm also working on a number of fronts to come up with solutions. Last night's community police meeting was a big help: several residents and block-group members attended, and we've got at least one area officer willing to go to the mat for us.

No strategy seems terrifically reassuring so far, but it's nice to feel there's at least something positive to do at times like this. Sometimes I feel like I've got a second full-time job (not so different from my actual full-time job), so there's no rest for the weary. But at least we know we're not in it alone, and that's a lot.

tracy said...

This breaks my heart. Oh, Chicago.