I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. You might know it by “Chiraq,” but we all call it Englewood and it’s a lot of love and a lot of hate out here. Where I live, in my neighborhood, there’s always shootings. Have you ever heard that motto, “Kill or be killed”? That describes Chicago to the fullest in my experience.
I first saw my cousin get killed when I was 11. I’ve been arrested on gun charges three different times. Right now, I’m 24 years old with a pending federal gun charge — I’m on house arrest trying to change my life around. In just the last five years, I’ve lost a lot of childhood friends to gun violence. Yes, I been through a rough life, I’ve been through it all, and gun violence seems to follow me everywhere I go.
I was only 16 the first time I got arrested for having a gun — a gun I had because I was in a war and needed protection. It’s like everyone has a gun, like everyone needs a gun, because it isn’t even just gangs fighting gangs anymore — it’s the streets fighting streets and it seems like the only resolution to these fights is to shoot.
The wars never end. Once you in a war, you’re always going to be in a war with that person. There is literally no way out unless you move to another state completely. Turf isn’t a factor when it comes to Chicago gangs. People don’t even hesitate to travel 30 blocks just to shoot at a rival target.
If you got an opp, you basically aren’t safe anywhere. You’ll see them when you least expect it and it won’t even matter who you’re with, kids and all, they don’t care. They’ll still shoot. You have to keep your own protection if you want any feeling of safety. All of this is a lifestyle. Young kids hop right into living this way because they’ve been seeing it their whole life — it’s the only way they know how to exist.
The gun violence here in Chicago is real bad and in my opinion there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It’s not like the police are doing much of anything to stop it either. They can’t stop nothing. The cops have their own little routine. They wait until after the shots have been fired to show up to the scene and ask questions that no one answers. They’ll patrol that part of the block for about three days at most and then move on again.
And once they move on again, what do you think happens? Another shooting. This will forever go on with no stoppage or shortage unless we find ways to cease access to the firearms already on the streets as well as stopping the cycle of the police and the government putting those same guns back onto the streets themselves.
Even though where I come from, this is just how it is, I would love it if I could help end gun violence in any way I can. I wish I could even just imagine the perfect world, one where guns are only in the hands of people who won’t use them to hurt each other, but I can’t. It’s impossible to imagine because the guns are everywhere, and we’ve become so used to it now that they are just another part of the life we live.
These are just my struggles; can you even relate to them? If this was your neighborhood, would you be able to envision a life without these guns? I wonder what you would think if this was what your childhood was like.
I wonder what steps you’d think were the right ones to take in order to make our community that perfect world that I find so difficult to imagine.
Randy (who doesn’t want to use his last name to retain his privacy and protect his identity) is an ensemble member of Storycatchers Theatre in their Changing Voices program, an employment opportunity for justice-involved young people. Employed with the company for 18 months, he enjoys being adventurous, is incredibly ambitious and not a quitter.