Peace. Into the night, the children smile. Their voices rise above the steady whir of bouncy house fans and the deep incurable pain that is not as easily detectable here, though its presence too is undeniable. Like the water that ripples in soft waves at a nearby park fountain.
Like the mothers of murdered sons and daughters who don “Purpose Over Pain” T-shirts--decades of grief shared between them. Like the enthusiasm of Khalil White-EL, 18, who bubbles with excitement over his new job--his future as bright as his infectious smile.
Peace. It flows here, on an August Friday night at Renaissance Park on West 79th Street. Drifting upon a premature autumn wind is a sense of the way life is supposed to be, even on this side of Chicago, where gunfire and murder confiscate childhood.
|Khalil White-EL (Photo: Provided)
A thousand people flocked to Renaissance Park for games, treats and backpacks at St. Sabina’s back-to-school Block Party, which is signals the church’s annual “Friday Night Peace Walks” led by Father Michael L. Pfleger, the church’s senior pastor soon will be ending.
The summer marches snake through the streets, undeterred by the recalcitrance of violence and the toll on the psyche and souls of those who dwell in the valley of the shadow of death.
Around here, they live with the reality that Black lives in this city and nation still don’t matter as much as white lives. With the quantifiable truth that frequent mass shootings in Englewood, West Garfield, Austin or Auburn Gresham, Illinois, don’t garner the same headlines or sense of public urgency or loss as a single mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois.
What’s the difference? Don’t we all bleed the same? Doesn’t every human soul carry the same worth?
Is the life of a Black child shot to death on the South or West Sides somehow made less valuable by her zip code or race? Does the prevalence of shootings in poor urban neighborhoods make the occurrence of violence there somehow more palpable, normal?On Chicago’s South and West Sides gun violence is a fact of life. So far, in 2022, Chicago has averaged about four mass shootings a month with all but three occurring on the South and West Sides, according to Gun Violence Archive, an online archive of gun violence incidents.
A total of 31 mass shootings in Chicago through August 20, with at least 130 people injured and 14 people killed, figures show. Two mass shootings this past weekend raise that figure to at least 140 people shot. But that’s not the whole story.
According to Chicago Police records, there were 425 homicides in Chicago through August 22, and 1,828 shootings, compared to 519 homicides and 2,239 shootings (an 18 percent decrease in both) during the same period in 2021. But any impact of a dip in gun violence is hard to measure. Or feel.
“We shouldn't feel good about a small decrease,” Pfleger told me. “Also, people do not feel safer. In fact, my take (is), they feel less safe.”
Indeed the weekend turned out to be another deadly one with 38 people shot, four of them fatally, according to police.
|A little girl at the back-to-school Block Party sponsored
by St Sabina awaits a bag of freshly popped
buttered popcorn. (John W. Fountain)
the glowing popcorn machine among scores of children--the white smoke of giant barbecue grills carrying the scent of burgers and hotdogs, and normalcy.
Four days later, on Tuesday Khalil White-EL--who is Moorish American and a member of St. Sabina’s Strong Futures Mentoring Program who had shared his excitement over his new job at Friday’s block party--is fatally gunned down about three miles away, in a South Side alley.
Khalil was 18. His funeral services at St. Sabina are pending.
The family was planning a balloon release at St. Sabina’s peace march this Friday evening. Balloons for Khalil. And prayers for peace.
|Two women pray for another woman at Renaissance Park at St. Sabina’s
back-to-school Block Party on Friday August 19. (Photo: John W. Fountain)