At the intersection of Glenwood and Devon, on the border between Rogers Park and Edgewater, a small makeshift memorial has been set up. A man died here on Saturday afternoon, shot in the back as he waited for a bus. His name was William Lewis. Born in Guatemala and adopted into a Wisconsin family, he was 28 years old. Just two weeks ago, he and his wife moved to Rogers Park, a neighborhood they considered "safe enough." He was a professional photographer about to start a new job on Monday.
According to the Pew Research Center, 201 human lives have been lost to homicide in Chicago so far this year. And although all life is precious, a death like this one rocks us to our core. This is the kind of killing that we cannot rationalize away. When the first account of the shooting came out, some people immediately jumped to the conclusion that the victim must have been a gangbanger and that somehow that made it make sense; there were comments from people who wrote -- as they always seem to do -- that we should just let all the bangers kill each other, as though that would solve the problem. It was a gang-related shooting, but Wil Lewis wasn't a gang member -- he was just a guy waiting for a bus at the moment the shooting started. That's not the tidy little narrative of living and dying by the gun that we use to avoid really thinking about the impact of gang violence and gun violence on all our lives.
There are blocks and street corners in our neighborhood that have a reputation for gang activity. We tend to avoid them, especially at night. But Devon Avenue on a Saturday afternoon isn't one of those areas. It wasn't dark, it wasn't lonely. In fact, there were multiple eye witnesses including our own alderman, Joe Moore, who happened to be standing just a block away at the time and heard the shots, saw the suspects fleeing, and literally helped wash the blood from the sidewalk. My hope is that because of the very public nature of this tragedy, we will start to make some serious changes to address the roots of the horrible downward spiral of violence and undervalued lives that turns every weekend into another bloodbath.
We cannot afford to become accustomed to the statistics, to mourn only after the victim -- like Wil Lewis or Hadiya Pendleton -- has been cleared of any suspicion of gang affiliation, meanwhile shrugging off all those other deaths, as though it were okay to write off the lives of fifteen year olds who've gotten caught up in gang life. I don't know how or when we lost track of the understanding that all life is precious, and that it must be cultivated and nurtured. Human beings are communal creatures -- we seek out a place where we can belong. When we turn kids away, under-educate them, leave them in poverty, remind them day after day that they do not belong and are not welcome, they will find a sense of belonging elsewhere, in the pseudo-family of street gangs. They will take the gun that's handed to them and start to shoot at someone they don't even know because that's what they've been told to do; if someone gets caught in the crossfire, that's just their bad luck. Constantly confronted with the evidence that their lives are not seen as having value, how can they learn the preciousness of their own lives and the lives of others?
In recent years, a hardness and lack of compassion and empathy has become pervasive throughout our country. Self-righteous mobs of complacent middle-class citizens scream curses at busloads of children awaiting deportation. God-fearing Christians begrudge the poor their mouthful of food and the roof over their heads. Kids kill each other in shoot-outs on the street and as long as that violence is contained in other neighborhoods, other towns, we comfort ourselves that things like that don't happen where we live. But they do.
I don't have answers, but i hope that out of this terrible tragedy we will remember that as John Donne wrote, "No man is an island." We are all in this together. We have to find a way.
UPDATE: The Rogers Park Positive Loitering group will stage a march on Wednesday evening, 16 July, and all neighbors and supporters who want to help put an end to the violence in our neighborhood are encouraged to attend. The group will meet at 7:00 PM at the corner of Glenwood and Devon, where Wil Lewis lost his life, and will walk east on Devon to Broadway/Sheridan, then return west to Uncommon Ground on the opposite corner of Glenwood and Devon.