BBC Video: The lost streets of Chicago

This video is almost a week old but I didn’t see it until today. Prompted by the spike in homicides in Chicago, the BBC sent a reporter to talk to people living in gang and drug infested neighborhoods. Their guide was a young rapper called Duwop who is an Iraq war vet. Duwop drives through town with a loaded gun in his lap. The BBC doesn’t comment. For the most part it’s just there to witness what is happening.

There is definitely a focus in this report on the ubiquity of guns in Chicago but there’s really no way to tell the story of how 500 people end up dead in 8 months time without talking about them. What the video suggests is that everyone in these neighborhoods lives in a constant state of fear. Riding through town without a gun is considered crazy because of the constant danger. No one wants to become the next victim.

Another rapper who goes by Bo Deal tells the BBC, “I never seen so many guns, like, we had a lot of guns but I never seen so many guns like now…ever.” He adds, “Everybody got guns and they don’t got just little 22’s…when we was coming up it was 22’s, 25’s, 38’s now they got big guns and 30 shot clips and s**t.” But immediately after lamenting the guns and violence he adds, “I think that a lot of guys need to die to make it…make it better.”

One woman interviewed by the BBC says, “you can’t really come outside at night.” Not even small children are safe from the gangs’ crossfire.

Part of what’s I found interesting about this story is that it reveals some characters who are immersed in a lifestyle that is objectively horrible yet which also seems to hold a certain glamour for them. There’s a scene where Duwop gathers for a party to remember his friend who was recently killed. Then a moment later he’s filming a new video inside an abandoned house while teens wearing masks and holding rifles pose for the camera. It’s not clear where the line is between play acting and becoming part of the problem. Is Duwop reflecting his reality or is he profiteering off the chaos he’s supposed to be lamenting? Maybe he’s doing both. Either way it’s clear the violence and his chosen career are deeply connected.

After the video wraps up with a long helicopter shot of the city there is a final interview in which Duwop breaks down and seems to try to justify his own behavior. “We only doing this s**t to get out…This s**t ain’t normal, man. I’m forced to do this s**t everywhere I f***ing go, man. This s**t don’t end. This a never ending f***ing cycle, man. Ain’t no way out of this s**t.”

The story ends by noting that Duwop spends part of his time outside the city. He knows there are safer places to be but he’s not quite ready or able to completely walk away from the mean streets of Chicago.