“Any act of violence is a negation of life and humanity.” – Rev. Ken Wheeler
I live in the city of Chicago. Anyone who pays even the slightest attention to news headlines knows that Chicago has a problem with violence. A Google search on gun violence in the city will return a link to Huffington Post that lists a variety of stories on violence in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune also has a page dedicated to Chicago crime statistics and interactive maps to help residents figure out what crimes happen in various communities. Now that the weather is warmer and young people will be out of school for the summer, many of us lament the fact that there will be an increase in violence. It’s a fact – warmer weather = more death in Chicago.
A few weeks ago, while riding the train on my way to church, I witnessed my first act of violence in the city and it rocked me to my core. I live on the far north side of the city and commute to my church on the south side. I have made an internal commitment that I will not be afraid to move within the city that I call home. Many stories of violence occurring come from the south and west sides of Chicago. I don’t want to be reckless, but I also don’t want to be trapped in fear and anxiety about going places where I’m called to be.
Riding the train from north to south is quite the social and cultural eye opener. I live in an extremely diverse part of town and as I ride from north to south, I see everyone and everything the city has to offer. As the train emerges from underground in the downtown area, we enter the south side of chicago. On this particular morning, I was in a train car with about 10 other people. There were two older white women who stayed on the train longer than is normal. I’ve learned that there are places where white people generally don’t go in the city and I was curious about where they were headed that morning. In addition to them, there was an older black woman, a couple of young black women black men. Everyone was engaged in their own thing – listening to music, talking to each other and reading.
The train stopped and three black men got on. They were talking loudly but that’s not anything unusual. They sat down a couple of seats from me and I looked up just to take note of who they were. I was one of the people reading and as the train pulled off, I went back to my book.
Their conversations escalated as we moved along and I realized that two of the young men were having an argument. I’m not sure what started it but one man was saying that the other disrespected him and he was making it very clear that he was upset. He began to curse and yell and those of us on the train went from giving side glances to actively watching what was happening in our midst.
At some point I realized that I didn’t really know what to do in that moment. I had been in another situation a few months back where I was riding the train during rush hour and a bunch of students were in the car I was riding on. They were loud, like kids are, and there were many of them. I remember watching the one white guy in my car look very anxious as their conversations escalated. When I got off at my stop, he got off as well, but only to change cars. This bothered me because I could see that he was afraid of our young black children.
Fast forward to this day and I found that I was the one contemplating moving cars because I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and scared.
As the train kept going, so did their argument. The two men stood up and it became clear that a fight was going to break out. I along with one of the women sitting by me moved to the far end of the car and two of the younger men who had been watching the confrontation unfold began to move forward. As the first blow was thrown, chaos ensued and I had the thought: what if they have guns. The two men watching ran forward to intervene. The train was still moving, so there really wasn’t anywhere for the rest of us to go.
It all happened so quickly. There was lots of yelling and I am in awe of the young men who ran forward to break the fight up. They had no idea what they were getting into but they felt called to help. The train pulled up to the next stop and many of us went to get off but the two men stopped fighting. One ran off the train and the other sat down, nose and hands bleeding. The conductor ran back to see what was going on and the two men that intervened let him know that everything was ok. I still had a few more stops to go before getting off so I sat down with the other women. One older lady just shook her head the whole time and as the train pulled off to the next stop, you would have thought that nothing happened.
My heart was racing and all I wanted to do was cry. This happened on a Sunday at 8:30 am. As we pulled into our next stop, one of the young men who had intervened stood to leave. He was clearly dressed as if he was going to church. I reached out to touch his arm and told him thank you. He just smiled and said, “You’re welcome. Happy Mother’s Day.”
This incident has stayed with me. I have wondered so many things, not just about what would have happened if a gun was present, but also about what leads people to resort to physical violence. The only thing that was said during the course of the argument that provided any information as to why things escalated was that one person felt disrespected by the other. I don’t know what that means exactly, but clearly, it was an impetus for physical violence to occur.
I don’t know what it’s like to live an existence where physical violence is a constant. Where you have to be ready to defend yourself at any time. I don’t know what it’s like to think so less of another human being that you can enact violence upon them. I believe that perpetration of physical violence reflects back on the perpetrator – mainly that there is a loss of self and disconnect from their humanity that leads to the ability to look upon another, not as a person, but as thing. I believe that many suffer from this dislocation and that our communities see the outcome of his dis-ease. I write about self-love, self-worth, acceptance and mental health. I am more convinced that many within our communities, particularly our black and brown brothers and sisters, are suffering from this type of disconnection. And it grieves my soul.
I think about those two young men. I wonder if anything else happened after that fight. I wonder if they are still alive given the reality of the city. I think about the many lives lost already, some who were entrenched in violence and others who were innocent bystanders. I don’t want to walk around afraid, afraid of my environment or afraid of people who look like me. I’m not sure what to do about all of this. I don’t know if there is anything I can do. What I do know is that if we don’t start loving ourselves, it will continue to be impossible to love others and without love, there is no reason to care for another.