•  ()
  •  ()
  • Print this Story
  • Email this Story

Thoughts on Chicago's Urban Violence

Author Alex Kotlowitz discusses the roots of Chicago violence and its effect on communities

text size AAA
October 16, 2009 | by Marla Paul
Video produced by Steve Won, Medill '10
A squabble over a girl can trigger a shooting, or a misinterpreted glance or stolen sneakers.

"Shootings have become so commonplace in some Chicago neighborhoods that death has take on a jargon all its own," best-selling author Alex Kotlowitz told an overflow crowd Sept. 25, at a Feinberg School of Medicine conference called “Chicago Stories: Violence and the Ethics of Urban Health Care.”

A "black cat" is a woman who has two children by different fathers, both of whom have been murdered. "Peeling back his head" is slang for killing someone. Young men wear bullet- proof vests to the funerals of their friends out of fear of retaliation. They walk down streets dotted with makeshift shrines to the murder victims.

Kotlowitz, a keynote speaker and the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Visiting Professor at the Feinberg School, said he's been humbled by the "stubborn persistence of the violence."

He called upon the audience of academic experts and neighborhood activists to imagine the violence as a public health matter, and not to underestimate the toll it takes on the health and spirit of individuals as well as their communities. Unlike war victims, for the children in these communities, Kotlowitz said, the trauma continues.

After a shooting, the children still have to navigate their neighborhood and the threat of more violence. Research is needed to understand how constant exposure to violence affects the mental and physical health of individuals, especially the children -- and  why some children are more resilient than others.

Research shows that in communities that work together, there's less violence. He stressed, "We need to find ways to rebuild communities, to give people ways to have control over their own lives."