Having grown up in the south suburbs for the first 21 years of my life, I had no real concept about city living. Upon getting married, we rented a ramshackle apartment in Edgewater while I attended school and after that first year, lived on the very edge of Oak Park (bordering the city). After those three years, we headed back to the southwest suburbs to plant roots, start a family, and live the American dream. While life hasn't worked out exactly has planned, we are blessed. And those blessings are not lost on me.
One year ago, Kelli O'Laughlin, a young fourteen-year-old white girl, living in an affluent suburb, was murdered by a burglar. I wept, this family wept, this town and those surrounding wept. But slowly, people started to say it. "THIS doesn't happen in this neighborhood." "People just aren't MURDERED here." School counselors were brought in to help grieving students. Fundraisers and charities were started to honor her legacy. Police were relentless in tracking down facts and finding out just who had done this.
Hop onto I-55 from this quaint town and in just a short time, you enter the murder capital of the nation. In 2012, there were 506 murders in the city of Chicago. Forty-two murders per MONTH. Wrap your mind around that for a moment. Mothers, fathers, friends, family, sons, daughters, children, babies. All gone. But what amount of news coverage did you see about this violence? How many of your friends in the suburbs talked about how devastated they were? How many mourned openly with you about "what this world is coming to" when they hear of Chicago violence? How many times did you shed a tear at another innocent bystander becoming a victim to gang warfare?
When Sandy Hook happened, a friend of a friend posted on Facebook talking about the irony if this had happened in a CPS school. Would the nation care? Would they grieve the way they had over these little students? My first instinct was to think that of course the nation would weep together - no matter where it happened. But in the depths of my being, I began to have this sinking feeling that perhaps Suburbia has just become accustomed to Chicago violence. We hear news brief after news brief about someone's life being taken and merely chalk that up to the risks of city-dwelling.
We hear of a six-month-old baby dying and talk about whether or not the ones who loved her were gang bangers.
We hear of murdered youth and think it must have just been because they were "thugs."
We visit Millennium Park to splash in the fountains, head to the Shedd Aquarium to take our kids to see the fish, catch a Bears game at Soldier Field, or even dine at the hottest new restaurant in town, but take our kids for a walk along the streets of Engelwood at night? We wouldn't be caught dead.
Whether or not we would choose it for our own children, babies are being RAISED in the city - in these neighborhoods that we would hope to never even walk in. When I worry about how to manage discipline and figuring out how much computer time my son should get, these families are trying to figure out how to make ends meet or wondering if when they kiss their kids goodbye will be the last time they ever see them. Let that sink in. Think about kissing your preschooler, sending them on their way, and then think about getting a call that would change your life forever.
We move to and live in the suburbs for the green grass, big yards, great schools, and ease of living life, but for me, I'm beginning to think that living is just too comfortable. As we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the American way, have we somehow lost sight of the greater good? We fight for school referendums and help our neighborhood school build a new playground or get more books in the library, but what about the children who have no library or schools that threaten to close everywhere? What about the ones who can't always feel safe playing at the park? What about them?
I take for granted how "simple" life seems. I look at my four-year-old son and think how beautiful he sees this world and I cannot fathom what his eyes would look like if they were filled with life-threatening fear. I cannot begin to comprehend what that life must truly be like. Suburbia is not an island and I wish we would stop clinging to it like it was one. It shouldn't be a bubble that we never risk popping just so no one else can get in. I'm beginning to wonder what it will take for those of us living outside the city limits to express the same outrage over a child of Chicago dying as we do about someone in our own neck of the woods. And if forty-two murders a month doesn't do that, if the face of a small child who was gunned down while getting their diaper changed doesn't shake us to our core, if the thought of children living and walking in fear every day doesn't give us some pause in our day-to-day humdrum life, then I'm beginning to wonder if all humanity is lost.
We may not have all the answers, but it starts with acknowledgement. It starts with human beings, not statistics. It starts with a conversation about saving our children. It starts with remembrance. It's about grieving as parents, as families, as the human race and sharing in the suffering of others - not because we have to, but because we should. And when our grieving fades, it's time to do something. As a community. As a whole.
The truth is...heartbreak should be color-blind.