A couple weeks ago I posted a video put together by the BBC titled “The Lost Streets of Chicago.” That video was interesting because it didn’t really try to offer solutions so much as it just turned a camera on what is actually happening in Chicago neighborhoods where people are shot because they come from a different block. Today the Associated Press has a story headlined, “Why is Chicago a murder capital? Clues from a bloody month” that looks at some of the same issues:
Fourteen-year-old Malik Causey loved the way gangs took what they wanted from people on the street, the way members fought for each other, the way they could turn drugs into cash and cash into $400 jeans.
His mother tried to stop him. She yanked him out of houses where he didn’t belong. She cooked up a story about Malik punching her so the police would lock him up to keep him safe for a while.
Then on Aug. 21, Monique Causey woke to discover that her son had sneaked out of the house. Before she could find him, someone ended his life with a bullet to the back of his head a few blocks away.
“I went to him and cried and told him he wouldn’t make it,” Causey said. “But this fighting, jumping on people … this is all fun for them. This is what they like to do, you know, so how can you stop them?”
There’s more in the AP story including how the constant back and forth between rival gangs escalates quickly, but I was struck by the idea expressed by this grieving mom: that part of what draws young men into the streets is that they see it as fun.
My first thought was ‘How could something so potentially dangerous be fun?’ But look back at that BBC video and watch the segment where Duwop attends a memorial for his friend who was recently murdered and then films a video in which a bunch of teenagers are holding weapons and posing for the camera. The memorial is not entertainment it’s all too real, but it lays a framework for a lot of the teenage tough-guy posturing that follows. And everyone involved seems to be having a good time.
It’s the same kind of posturing that is common to young men of every race everywhere. The difference in Chicago is that the real violence on the streets legitimizes that posturing as both necessary and serious rather than discouraging it as a silly teenage pose. Living in the mean streets makes you tough and tough is what 15-year-olds want to be seen as, especially by other 15-year-olds.
Chicago is a bit like a real life horror movie where every moment could be your last. But people, especially teens, like horror movies.
Here’s the BBC clip again. If you haven’t seen it before it’s worth a look.