Lame sensationalism and its relationship with gun and gang violence in Chicago.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, or are a frequent viewer of Chicago newscasts, chances are you happen to be aware of many of the shootings that have taken place in Chicago so far in 2012, especially those that have occurred during the summer. Initial reports usually tell us that Person A shot Person B in a general location. Slowly, we get more details, including a more definite location, motive, weapon used and learn more about the perpetrator and victim. The amount of attention each shooting attracts generally depends on where the shooting took place, and who the perp and victim were. In fact, this method used by news outlets doesn’t apply to only gun violence. The “mob attacks” that seemed to plague some of the more affluent areas of the city this summer and last, happen with regularity in less affluent areas. A man who randomly attacks innocent people in Lincoln Park leads to these outlets doing seemingly everything in their power to put a stop to it. It’s not right, but it certainly is reality.

Like too many cities, large and small, Chicago has a problem with crime, especially criminal acts involving guns. As in other large cities, the shootings are disproportionately concentrated in the most disadvantageous neighborhoods. I believe it is safe to say that most acts of gun violence in the city involve gang members, be they acts of retaliation, initiation, or just senseless displays of aggression. According to the Chicago Police Department, not only does the city have the country’s largest gang population, but 75-80% of the city’s homicides are gang-related. There are an estimated 100,000 gang members in Chicago, compared to about 9,500 men and women (out of over 12,000) who are not just CPD employees, but police officers. Essentially, each police officer is responsible for 10.5 gang members. Take into account that obviously, officers have to worry about everyone outside of the gang spectrum who is up to no good, and it’s not very difficult to understand why police Supt. Garry McCarthy decided to hire close to another 500 Chicago police officers this year.

So how does the media often respond to a story of yet another shooting in Chicago? Sensationalism! Media types compare the environment here to one that can be found in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. Or, we get an article with the headline, “Wild West In Chicago”. Also, you can’t forget the cries of hopelessness and pushing of statistics that indicate that you’re more likely to get killed in Chicago than in Kabul…except those findings are skewed and in reality, bunk.

Allow me to acknowledge that sensationalism is not a device used by only the media when they desperately want to land more viewers, listeners and readers. Annoying Chicago rap artists who have subscribed to it along with glorification have recklessly labeled Chicago “Chiraq”. Even more annoying Chicago rap artists have decided that “Killanoise” is a more apt name for our state than Illinois. I’ve read ignorant  tweets that paint Chicago as some sort of kill-or-be-killed, post-apocalyptic city where each citizen owns a bevy of firearms and Kevlar vests. These tweets are usually so blatantly false that I can only deduce that the original poster put it out there to gain followers.

Every once in a while, it takes a snazzy headline to get more people to pay attention. My main qualm is when the headline gets in the way of the actual story. Instead of sitting down and figuring out how we can at least curb gang violence in Chicago, we as a collective lose our minds at the notion that a large metropolitan city in America could be comparable to a war zone in any way. So desperate to get a laugh, we would rather spread the ignorance around rather than come up with viable solutions to the problem of wayward youth in Chicago. While I don’t agree that there is power in prayer or that it accomplishes much, if anything at all, I wouldn’t tell anyone who chooses to pray for the victims or even suspects not to do so. However, all of your “Pray 4 Chicago” posts and that general sentiment won’t do a damn thing to stop any of the violence that happens here. In my personal experiences, I have never heard of prayer stopping a bullet or leading a bullet into a brick wall instead of a 7 year-old girl, like Heaven Sutton, or 16 year-old boy, like Blair Holt.

I mentor when I have time and have actually had the privilege to sit in on a focus group or two, and still feel I don’t do nearly enough. I once overheard after a meeting, “Kids in Chicago read these stories and think this shit is a movie”. It’s somewhat hard to see the severity in a situation when at almost every turn, it is being glorified by those you feel you relate to (rappers) and sensationalized by those who convey to you that they’re just doing their jobs; that they’re simply conduits of information (media).

The youth in Chicago need us to lead by example, and making light of the situation or at times resorting to a bit of fear-mongering won’t help matters at all. Chicago is not the world’s deadliest city, people. Ridiculous headlines don’t do much for the city’s image, either. I’m sure that the stories of violence here have deterred more than a few visits and vacations. We give credence to the exaggerations with every retweet, repost, and endorsement of a particular conviction that our city is wild and out of control. Enough. Anyone who doesn’ t live under a rock knows that there are parts of this city with problems involving gang and gun violence. Now that many of us are in the know, it’s time to start looking for ways to completely eradicate these issues.

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