More than 80 people were shot in Chicago over the July 4th weekend. Nine died. The following week, I was in Texas. And almost every time somebody heard I was from the Chicago area, the shootings were the first thing they asked about. Guess they made kind of a splash on the national news. Everybody wanted to know how I could feel safe in the city. Understandable question. Eighty-two shootings in four days in a city of 2.7 million, pretty soon you don’t like your odds.
I don’t live in the city now, wasn’t down there that weekend, but had I gone in for a concert or the fireworks or to a museum or to take in a Cubs game, I would have been fine. No one would have been shot anywhere near me. For the year and change I lived in the city, up in Rogers Park, I felt perfectly safe. See, I’m upper-middle-class and I’m white.
Take a look at this map, which marks the location of every single shooting over the 4th of July weekend.
You’ll notice one conspicuously empty space – north of 55 and east of 90 and 94. That’s about a third of the city’s area. There were four shootings there. One of those was a guy being hit by a falling bullet fired into the air by some idiot who can’t tell the difference between a 9mm and fireworks. A good guy with a gun, no doubt. (By the way, in Illinois, the fireworks are illegal, the 9mm isn’t.) Another incident involved a couple of African American men being confronted and asked about their gang affiliation in one of the few slivers in that north side swath that could even be called sketchy. I’m pretty sure that, if they’d been white and upper-middle class, nobody would have asked.
So, in one-third of the city’s geographical footprint, you had less than 5 percent of the city’s shootings. If you’re white and you have any money, that’s where you live. If you’re a tourist, almost any place you’d go to see falls in that north-side chunk.
Now look at the map again. You’ll see a cluster of shootings on the west side smack dab in the middle just above an uninterrupted wishbone stretching south and southeast. If you start clicking on those incidents, you’ll see the same neighborhoods mentioned over and over again. Englewood, Garfield Park, Humbolt Park, Austin, Chatham, South Chicago. 76 of the 82 shootings are in that unbroken line, in an area with a population of maybe 250,000 – less than 10 percent of Chicago’s total. Those neighborhoods? All poor, mostly African American. Eighty-two shootings in a city of 2.7 million? That’s scary. 76 in an area with a quarter million people? That’s positively terrifying.
Whites still comprise the largest single ethnic group in Chicago – better than 42 percent. African Americans account for about 35 percent. Yet, in 2013, only 7 percent of the city’s murder victims were white; 76 percent were African American.
Next time somebody tells you that there’s no such thing as white privilege, ask them about the privilege of not getting shot.