By Gregory Michie, Chalkbeat, September 10, 2019
Ask a room full of eighth-graders what they like about their Chicago neighborhood and you’ll get a wide-ranging cascade of answers: the close bonds they feel with neighbors, the cumbia rhythms blasting from apartment windows, the summer festivals, the programs at Holy Cross Church, the street vendors, the tacos at Internacional. But if you ask what they don’t like about Back of the Yards, situated on the city’s southwest side, a single topic will echo time and again: the shootings.
Gun violence has long been a reality in the neighborhood. The frequency of it tends to ebb and flow, but it never seems to be far from the minds of young people growing up there. A couple of weeks before school started one year, a rising eighth-grader, Leo, had been shot at close range not far from his family’s apartment. Thankfully, he survived, but it was a reminder to all the kids who knew him—and his teachers, too—of how random and sudden such incidents can be. A few weeks into the year, a student scrawled the words “If only we were bulletproof” onto a whiteboard in large, red letters.
It wasn’t just in Back of the Yards. Gun violence in a number of Chicago neighborhoods, along with the city’s escalating murder rate, had garnered national attention. In an interview on CBS Evening News earlier that year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel put the blame squarely on “gangbangers” and their supposed lack of values. “Who raised you?” Emanuel asked, as if speaking to a hypothetical gang member. “How were you raised?”