July 11, 2022
Highland Park, Illinois is just 17 miles north of where I live. It is a community I have worked in, often having meetings in restaurants and coffee shops near the location that made nationwide headlines when a 21-year-old man murdered 7 people, wounded dozens more, and disrupted an entire community a week ago when he climbed to a rooftop and fired on the crowd standing curbside to enjoy the all-American fun of a small-town parade. Over that weekend according to NBC Chicago, in neighborhoods of Chicago south or west of my home, neighborhoods that are as close to me as Highland Park, “10 people were killed and 62 others were wounded by gunfire over the Fourth of July weekend.” These too were people hoping to celebrate and enjoy their holiday weekend.
The shooting in Highland Park grabbed the nation’s attention. I was quickly aware that something bad had happened when, sitting in my son’s backyard, my cell phone began to light up with news alerts from the NY Times and the Washington Post. Throughout that weekend my phone was silent about any of the Chicago murders. As I write this one week later, Highland Park remains front and center in our nation’s concerns. Local and national politicians have weighed in on the horrors of Highland Park. Support for the victims and for those struggling to process the shock of a massacre in their community has come from near and far. Just this morning Politico’s Illinois Playbook reported on a conversation between Highland Park ‘Mayor Nancy Rotering and President Biden: “Rotering said she spoke to Biden about wanting a ban on assault rifles. ‘He shared his absolute grief at what had happened with us and said that this needs to stop, and [asked], ‘Why do we allow these weapons?’ … He was angry and concerned…’” And he wore a Highland Park Stron Ribbon to show his empathy.
But, if not for a story in the Washington Post that pointed out what happened in Chicago that weekend, the violence in Chicago went relatively unnoticed and unreacted to. “There are no crowdsourced charity drives raising millions for victims’ families in Chicago, where the holiday weekend death toll reached at least 10 with 62 injured — numbers that exceed the toll from a July Fourth parade shooting in nearby Highland Park, Ill. In that affluent lakeside suburb, the violence was an anomaly. Here, it is a grimly regular occurrence. ’They have a lot of resources there in Highland Park,’ said Bobbie Brown, 62, who watched the nationally televised law enforcement response and community outpouring from her home in the Englewood neighborhood, down the block from where the homicide near the playground happened Friday afternoon. ‘Ain’t that something? Our babies see people get shot while they’re at a playground, and there’s no counseling. They have to suck it up and deal with it.’”
Two communities suffer the horrors of gun violence, one is a continuing national story, and the other is almost unnoticed.
The difference in national perspective is mirrored in the way our law enforcement goes about its mission. Faced with the trauma of the mass shooting in Highland Park the surrounding communities were shut down as police conducted an hours-long search for the culprit. Here’s how CNN described his capture: “After police determined Crimo was a person of interest in the investigation and publicized his information and the car they believed he was in, someone saw the vehicle on US 41 and called 911…A North Chicago police officer then saw the vehicle, waited for backup, stopped the car Monday evening near Lake Forest, Illinois, and arrested Crimo…officers also found a rifle inside the vehicle…”
Just days earlier, as described by VOX, here’s what occurred as Police officers were making a stop for a minor traffic offense of a driver not known to be armed. “Police officers in Akron, Ohio, shot and killed 25-year-old Jayland Walker in the early hours of Monday, June 27, after they attempted to stop his car for an alleged ‘traffic and equipment violation.’ Walker suffered more than 60 wounds, according to a preliminary medical examiner’s report. Multiple officers shot at him an estimated 90 times following a car chase. Walker was unarmed at the time he was killed.”
The differences between Highland Park and the Chicago neighborhoods, the difference between the capture of the Highland Park suspect and the suspected Akron traffic offender are as clear Black and White and as easy to distinguish as rich and poor. That’s because one suspect was white and the other black; one community is rich and privileged and the other poor and powerless. As noted by Block Club Chicago, there is so much violence in some communities that it has become normal. “Many Chicagoans are somewhat numb to the horrors of the violence because of its frequency. The Highland Park shooting was the first shooting there in decades; in Chicago, there can be multiple mass shootings just in the same month — in May, there were two in the same day. During another mass shooting in May, Chicagoans simply stepped over and through victims’ blood on the sidewalk….The reality of violence in Chicago is that there’s a desensitization…Because this is an issue our communities have been dealing with for so long.”
The horror of what occurred in Highland Park cannot be minimized. The feelings of loss are so very real. Violence is rare and unexpected, something that does not happen in “our community.” That the shooter appears to be someone who had grown up in their community makes it all so much more frightening. Healing will take time if it can come at all. Innocence lost is hard to recapture.
Violence has been a fact for others not so fortunate to be wealthy and white, for communities live with it daily. Is their pain and suffering just as real as that of my neighbors to the north? Do they not deserve the same concern for their futures and their wellbeing?
In a letter to her constituents, Kelly Cassidy, my state representative rote “It is my hope that maybe this time really will be different. We can attack this holistically,: yes, I am all for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but I can’t pretend that’s all that’s needed. We must address historic disinvestment, create opportunities, and provide care. This isn’t a simple problem to solve, but we also can’t just wash our hands and walk away.”
The events of the July 4th weekend cannot only be viewed from a personal perspective, how it impacted my life and my community. To do that, to miss the larger implications of why Highland Park is a front-page story and south and west side Chicago are footnotes, is to miss what the greater horror that we are living with. It reflects our devaluing of Black and Brown lives. It reflects our belief that violence is to be expected in “those” communities.
This coming Saturday I will be going to synagogue in a building just down the road from where the Highland Park massacre took place, in a building where one of the victims worked. As our service progresses, we will rise, form a circle and sing “Love your neighbor as yourself, this is Torah.” We are challenged to see, in these painful days, that our neighbors are not just those who live down the block from us, not just those who look like us, not just those who are like us. We must do better if we truly love our neighbors.