Why Must We Wait for Bullets to Start Building Better Community?

At the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, we have been watching the Chicago Public School closings and their effects on students and communities very closely.  So I read with keen interest the cover story in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, about a murder by gunshot at 63rd and King Drive at the edge of a receiving school.  I had already planned to ride my bike into downtown from the South Suburbs, a habit I try to keep once a week during the 8 or 9 warmer months.  Now I resolved that I would ride down King Drive past Parkway Gardens where the shooting occurred.  King Drive being my favorite route downtown, I had just been asked if it was safe by another South Suburbanite.

I love riding through the South Side of Chicago and dreaming about the possibilities for housing, business and community life there.  I am completely serious when I say it is a positive and uplifting experience to see how much beauty is present in the human and ecological environment.  Today was no exception, and as I rode through the expanded Black Metropolis, I exchanged waves, nods and smiles with dozens of people: through East Hazel Crest, Harvey, Dixmoor, Riverdale, the Whistler Woods Forest Preserve and its bike path across the Cal-Sag channel; through West Pullman, Roseland, and Chatham I felt no risk at all to my safety.

Because as I mentioned I like to daydream while I ride, I entered Greater Grand Crossing and began to wonder what would happen if I was shot.  This was, of course, the delusional fantasy of another paranoid white person sold a bill of goods by media sensationalism.  The chances I would be shot were nil; the police presence promised by the media coverage was evident and inescapable.  It was again another quiet morning on the South Side and I was as safe as elsewhere.  I felt no different than the hundred times I had ridden past before.

But still, my mind had gone there.  I had prayed for traveling mercies at the start of my ride, but now I imagined making phone calls from a hospital bed - putting out a bipartisan call to Democrat and Republican state legislators alike to fund jobs, after-school programming, and school supports in the area; calling on churches in Glenview, which passed an ordinance in opposition to a Cook County fair housing amendment outlawing discrimination against holders of subsidized housing vouchers, to join hands with the churches in Greater Grand Crossing to usher children in both places through childhood to safety and understanding; and touching everyone I knew to bring resources and attention to empower a neighborhood full of parents and children who want change.

Surely many would take notice if a white civil rights lawyer was shot while taking a quixotic, perhaps ill-advised bike ride through a purported danger zone.  But as I rode safely into downtown, on a common quiet Friday, I was left only with the inescapable conclusion that I could ask for all of these things now, from my desk but for the fact that no one would pay any mind.  Why must it be that only bullets and tragedies move us from complacency to the task of building a greater Chicago?