Why I Made a List of Shooting Victims

Why I Made a List of Shooting Victims
(Photo by Yumi Kimura. Source: WikiMedia Commons)

I started this blog as an alternative to making a list of "40 things to do before I'm 40."  I decided instead to make a list for each of the 40 weeks until I turned 40 on any subject other than that. I had a few ideas for lists but hoped that enough inspiration would come to me to fill all the weeks. I knew I would do some personal reminiscences about things like shoes and lost career aspirations. I knew I would do some more practical lists of things like information security tips and places to eat in my neighborhood. I never thought I would do anything as serious as a list of people who have died from gun violence in Chicago in 2012, but then something happened. Something happened in a different city.

I found out about the shooting at the Empire State Building the same way I find out about most breaking news: on Twitter. I found out so early that I couldn't yet find anything on Google News when I searched for more information.  In the hours that followed there would be a lot of discussion on Twitter and elsewhere, including a number of people lamenting that this event was getting tons of media attention when shootings in Chicago often get little. The night before the shooting in New York 19 people had been shot in Chicago; 13 of those were shot in a single 30 minute stretch.

I was thinking about this when the TV was still showing live on the scene coverage at the Empire State Building even though the perpetrator had already been shot and the danger had passed. Instead of that sort of extended coverage Chicago gets Mad Lib formula headlines:

[some number] of People [Shot or Killed] in [Chicago or Specific Neighborhood] in the Last [Period of Time]

I see these headlines almost every day. They scroll through my morning Twitter feed among customary greetings and predictable cries for coffee. Like the noise from a familiar alarm that can be silenced with a reflexive hit of the snooze button these headlines draw my attention only for a moment before I move on. But eventually it's time to wake up.

I didn't like that I had allowed myself to think of shootings as statistics. I didn't like that I suspected many others had as well. So I made a list to remind us all of the people, the individuals, who have been lost.

Originally I thought that I'd have to comb through news archives to try to find as many names as I could. If I had to do that I probably would have stopped at 40 names, which would not have been an adequate depiction of the problem. Luckily, Tracy Swartz and others have already done the work to compile the data as a part of the RedEye Homicide Tracker, which allowed me to publish a much longer list of names by just reformatting a spreadsheet.

Since I published my list, the satirical site The Onion posted this article: Hot New 'Murder Craze' Sweeps Chicago.

Since I published my list, WBEZ did a story questioning whether too many homicides are given the dismissive label of "gang related."

Since I published my list, at least one more name has been added to the Chicago shooting death toll: Brian Nailer, Age 31.

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