Sunday, December 11, 2005

If you're in Chicago today, you might get killed

City Hall and police officials are proud to say that Chicago's murder tally is down to "historic" lows, saying that they have put more police on the street in the city's most violent neighborhoods, but one fact remains: Exactly 1.2273972 people are killed in the city each day. This number was arrived at after an in-depth investigation and mathematical calculation: I read in last week's Tribune that, in 2004, 448 people were murdered here, and officials expect this year to match that number. Next, I pulled out my trusty, flip-up, purple calculator and divided 448 by the number of days in the year, which a close look at a calendar revealed to be 365. The result, as I said, is that 1.2273972 of us must go. Today.

With that many (or few, if you are as happy about the number as officials are) dead people, you might expect newspaper stories every day about the painstaking, exhaustive searches for leads in all these crimes. Distraught family members are going door-to-door, police officers are looking for clues, the mayor is holding press conferences to declare the city safe for visitors despite the most recent death, private investigators are working free of charge until the guilty are brought to justice. Yes, you might expect to see these things chronicled in the newspapers, but one fact remains: If you are poor and/or a minority, nobody gives a damn whether or not you're dead or alive. Another fact remains: If, on the other hand, you happen to be a white teen from Mobile, Alabama, who has gone missing in Aruba, your name will appear many, many times in Chicago newspapers.

Just who are the dead in Chicago? It's impossible to say because they are not mourned publicly. In that article about the murder rate being at historic lows, I read that the November tally this year was a measly 26, which means that this was one of the safest months with only 0.866666 people killed each day. I thought I'd go through the Tribune's on-line archives for information on the victims and police efforts to find and bring to justice the evildoers.

Here's what I found: First of all, if you don't mind a quick digression, what would life be like without the Internet? I'd probably be at a library, zooming through microfilm and microfiche, maybe getting my hands inky by actually touching newsprint and turning pages. Instead, I did a keyword search and went through hundreds of instant results. Here, again, is what I found, in reverse chronological order:

November 30
* Man found shot to death in car parked in driveway. Oops, that was in Ford Heights, so it doesn't count.
* Person questioned in fatal shooting. This one's out of Robbins, so no dead people in Chicago yesterday.

November 29
* Ohio executes man guilty in two murders. Oh, that's not murder because an entire state did it. And it wasn't even Illinois.
* 1 dead in what police call a possible gang shooting. Oh boy, Aurora news in the Chicago paper.
* Insurgents kill 3 foreign pilgrims. These, by the way, are not the infamous Chicago street gang the Insurgents, but rather liberation fighters in Iraq. Still, it raises an eyebrow: Weren't the pilgrims supposed to be in America for Thanksgiving?
* Chicago a capital for car thieves. I know this has nothing to do with murder, well probably not anyway, but I thought the list of stolen goods coming through the city by the truckload was quite impressive: Goodyear tires, prescription drugs, liquor, canned tuna, Canon copiers, hot tubs, furniture and computer printers, cookies and car parts, and sweatshirts.
* Evanston woman is fatally stabbed. Getting closer!
* Paralyzed 10 years after shooting, victim dies. Finally, someone from the city, but I'm not sure if this counts for this year.
* In Sarasota, a woman whose daughter was killed said about the 11-year-old's killer: "I'd like him dead today." I wonder if this will be considered a premeditated killing.

November 28
* Decisive night for 'Housewives' druggist. Some guy, apparently, died on a TV show and he gets a write-up. So far, nothing on any of the Chicago murders from this month.
* Family says cops beat man to death. He was taken into custody at 8:45 p.m. on April 8, 2003, and died later. Hmm ... I don't think it counts as murder when either the state or the police do it.

November 27
* Two held in abduction of young boy, sister: 18-year-old self-described Satanist targeted girl, prosecutors say.

November 25
* S. Side man found shot to death on staircase. Finally a murder victim in Chicago! I click on the link to this story, expecting to see a long write-up about the comprehensive police search for the killer or killers, with quotes from family and friends, but instead get a 92-word "article" that will soon look very familiar: Neighbors discovered the unidentified body last night. There are no witnesses. Police have no leads. Incidentally, this asterisked point about the guy is the same length as the newspaper story about his death: 92 words.

November 25
I'm starting to move more quickly through these search results. If it's not from Chicago, I don't want to know ...
* 16-year-old killed when shots fired from van. In the Hermosa neighborhood, again a very short write-up with no follow-up piece.

November 22
* OK, OK, I return to the suburbs--Des Plaines--for this one: Autistic man dies in police struggle.

November 21
* 12-year-old suspect ordered held in dice-game slaying: This is a follow-up to what happened on the "Far" South Side on November 13.
* 2 killed, 1 hurt in weekend shootings: About 200 words for three victims.

November 20
* Camden, N.J., ranked most dangerous city. Detroit's #2. No mention of Chicago, even though I'm only 10 days into my search and I'm not feeling safe. Then again, why worry? So far everything's pretty much been on the South Side.

November 18
* Crap, just when I vowed I would not bother with national or international stories for sure, this one came up: Russian woman, sons accused of cannibalism: They strangled a man and ate his innards.
* Man with gunshot wound found dead in gangway.
* Teen fatally shot talking to friends.

November 13
* S. Side man found fatally shot in car.

November 8
* Woman found stabbed to death in apartment. In a twist, this one's on the "Far" North Side, which like S. Side, is code for African American.

November 6
* 2 teens, 1 man are slain in separate shootings. The teens were killed in Chicago, the man in Aurora.

November 5
* For preacher, slaying hits home. This is a follow-up to a November 4 headline: Man fatally shot at gas station.

And that's it ...
Out of 26 November murder victims, exactly 12 made it into the paper, and only two got a follow-up story. Meanwhile, that teenager missing in Aruba, her name returned 83 results. The difference, of course, is skin color. So, turns out my title for today's post is a little misleading. It should say something like: If you're in Chicago today, and you're a teen and/or poor, preferably on the South Side, then you might be killed.

In many ways, this lack of coverage of murders and investigations into those murders mirrors the lack of coverage of things going on in Iraq. We're well over 2,000 dead American soldiers, but recently the stories are getting shorter and less frequent, not just in the mainstream media but even on liberal blogs like dailykos. And if you're an insurgent or Iraqi citizen--killed by U.S. forces or other insurgents or yourself in a suicide mission--forget about it, all you are is a statistic. Case in point: A story with this headline--Pre-election violence in Iraq kills 4 U.S. soldiers--is literally buried on the Tribune website today. You have to click on the nation/world news link, and there, this 346-word story is number 10 on the list. In the New York Times, this story is a sidebar to a feature piece on Iraq's upcoming election with the headline: Politics, Iraqi style: Slick TV ads, text messaging and gunfire. This is on the Times' homepage today, right under a story with the headline "Military's information war is vast and often secretive" that leads with these exact words: "The Bush administration's costly propaganda campaign ..." Any irony in any of this?

This reminds me of what a friend's boyfriend said about two years ago: "Why does NPR keep reporting about soldiers dying in Iraq? That's old already. We know they're dying, why don't they move on?" As I said, that was two years ago when only about a thousand soldiers were dead. He, like so many Americans (I'm sure) didn't want to be reminded of the consequences of going to war. I'm sure he doesn't want to hear about all the poor black and brown people being killed in Chicago, either. But I wonder, instead of ignoring it, shouldn't we be doing something about it?


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