I’m jealous of all the people still riding their bikes to work. My cold-weather clothes that got me to work on bike through the coldest of Chicago winters–heavy duty gloves, face mask, ear warmers, long johns–are sitting lonely in a box this winter.
This is the first winter at my new job where, most days, I work on Chicago’s near north side. My commute has me going conveniently straight east from my home in Oak Park. Though this winter this commute will be exclusively done by automobile.
Why? Because I’m scared for my safety.
Chicago’s violence problem draws national and even international headlines. The Huffington Post has a whole section on “Chicago Violence” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/chicago-violence); Chicago’s gun issues even made the Economist last February (http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21571477-gun-control-getting-increasingly-political-windy-city-feeling-heat?zid=311&ah=308cac674cccf554ce65cf926868bbc2).
Every few weeks, the city is outraged over it’s violence problem, with regular headlines highlighting waves of shooting. A dozen shot yesterday, a score over the weekend. Chicago’s gun violence isn’t just a summer phenomenon, with 18 people shot over a recent mid-November weekend (http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/3-Wounded-in-Overnight-Chicago-Violence-232194291.html).
Neither is every corner of Chicago afflicted with this epidemic. In fact, most of Chicago is actually quite safe.
Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune argued, “Even with its 17 percent spike in murders in 2012, Chicago was far from the deadliest city in America. The murder rate here — 18.5 per 100,000 residents, according to preliminary FBI data — was 21st in the nation, better than in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans and Detroit, to name a few” (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-07-26/opinion/ct-oped-0726-zorn-20130726_1_toddlin-town-chicago-arthur-lurigio).
Why am I so worried, then? Violence in Chicago is concentrated in certain neighborhoods, as the map below from the Chicago Tribune (http://crime.chicagotribune.com/chicago/shootings/) describes. The darker the blue shading, the higher the violence. My commute to work takes me through some of the most violent parts of Chicago. Literally just the same night as I’m writing this blog, this headline comes across my Twitter feed, “Shootings on South, West Side Injur 5,” with 2 of the 5 shootings just blocks from my commute route home (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-chicago-shootings-violence-dec-5-6-20131205,0,1611580.story).
The crime statistics aren’t random, and allude to the extreme racial segregation in Chicago. Using latest census data, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research wrote of Chicago, “For the nation’s ten largest metropolitan areas as of 2010… Chicago, long one of the nation’s most segregated cities, posts the highest dissimilarity and isolation levels in the group” (http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_66.htm Table 1). In 2010, Chicago was the most segregated large city in the U.S.
The map below is an awesome look at 2010 census data to show where folks live in major U.S. cities by race (http://www.wired.com/design/2013/08/how-segregated-is-your-city-this-eye-opening-map-shows-you/#slideid-210391 green= African American, orange = Hispanic, blue = Caucasian, red = Asian). The colors are pinpointed by household, and I’m amazing seeing maps like these that really delineate the separation of races in Chicago.
The race map can be compared to the violence map to capture a real sense of what’s going on, and how race segregation and violence are related:
For me, November 2 changed how I get to work. Losing that extra hour of evening daylight spikes rates of violence in cities (http://www.batten.virginia.edu/content/news-events/bright-lights-safe-cities-how-daylight-saving-fights-crime). After Daylight Savings ended, it was dark by 5pm. Closer to the winter solstice, it’s dark by 4pm. And darkness means more violence, and an unsafe bicycle commute back home that’s not worth it.
So I can’t wait until Monday, March 10, my first commute to work after Daylight Savings returns. The worst of another Chicago winter will likely be behind us, and the streets will be sunny long enough for my to cross Austin Blvd. into Oak Park.
Changing a major behavior and lifestyle because I fear for my safety really hones in on what so many residents of Chicago–especially low income, African American–are dealing with on a daily basis. I don’t know what the solution is to decrease the violence. Housing subsidies spread throughout Chicago to improve racial integration? More cops on the streets? Not arresting for drug possession? Arresting more harshly for drug possession? Tougher gun laws? More citizens armed? Police cooperation with the gangs to reduce violence? Tougher policing to arrest those suspected of gang involvement? A living wage? More money for Head Start?
Regardless of the empathy I have for residents in violence-stricken communities, I have the luxury this winter of jumping in a car and speeding through the streets to the safety of Oak Park. But ignoring the problem is not a solution, and even those of us in relatively safe communities are less and less immune to the realities of this problem, no matter how insular and separated we try to get. It’s incumbent upon us to hold our elected officials, law enforcement, and community leaders accountable, and for us not to forget our fellow citizens whose communities are stricken as part of a daily routine.