A little boy died last night: Chicago, violence, and answers.

A little boy died last night: Chicago, violence, and answers.


A little boy was shot and killed this evening. One block away from my home.

I live in the same community as our President.  His home is less than 8 blocks away.

Less than a mile south of me, there are federal agents guarding one home and city cops protecting one block. Yet, a little boy was still shot and killed.  Steps away from his home.  One block away from me.

There is a magnet high school four blocks to the west.  The beautiful lakefront is one block to the east.  Condos abound, historic homes and a few mansions line the streets.  Nevertheless, a young man was still murdered and yet another life was senselessly taken.

Newly developed mixed-income housing is integrated into my community.  This is a noble concept aimed at bridging the socioeconomic and cultural gaps that have often arisen within economically and racially segregated neighborhoods in Chicago.  Tonight, I am both saddened and grateful for this integration; for the reality of violence (and the need for resolution) has hit painfully close to home.

I grieve for the young man who died but I pray for the fate of his friends, younger than the age of 15, who were left to contemplate the relevancy of his life and the magnitude of his death.

How do you convince these children that they will ever be safe?

In the absolute absence of any notion of security, how do you teach these children not to seek retaliation to protect themselves?  How do you convince these children to keep doing the right thing?  How do you convince these children there is more to life than death?  How do you help these children see a way out of the circumstances of violence that seems to creep into their lives, into their neighborhoods, and into their families no matter where they go?

…I didn’t plan to write about a kid dying.

In fact, the post I originally wrote began with the sentence, “I can’t write about kids dying.”

Yet, here I am and here we are.

As a reader to this blog, it is not my goal to convince you to help solve this issue.  My goal is to convince you to care.

It is easy to read this story and believe that these things happen because a child did something wrong…or better yet, because a child did not do something right.  Yet, what I know to be true is that the circumstances from which one is born sets you on a specific trajectory that you have to exert an extraordinary amount of energy to deviate from.  I am convinced now, more than ever, that the outcomes for many inner city youth will not be changed unless the circumstances that they are born into changes.


Society tries to indoctrinate poor inner city children with the belief that they can become a doctor or a lawyer when these children have no idea how to get there and are not given the tools to figure it out.  Society tries to convince these children that in the midst of poverty, shitty schools, drugs, and violence , that all they have to do is keep doing the right thing, look twice before they cross the street, be good alter boys and eventually they will become upstanding citizens with all the benefits vested by such a bullshit title.


Police and ambulance came to the scene of the shooting.  Homeowners came out of their houses.  Friends of the slain child stood by and watched.  As the children walked away, many younger than the age of 15, they were left to themselves and their own thoughts to make sense out of what happened.   Some will feel helpless.  Some will feel angry.  Some will turn to God.  Some will turn to retaliation.  Some will turn to drugs.  Others, if they are smart, resourceful, and lucky, will focus on getting as far away from this community and this city, one with parks, mansions, and lakefront property, as quickly as possible.


I didn’t plan to write about a child getting shot.

Yet here I am and here we are.

I didn’t want to write another story about violence in Chicago without proposing a solution. Unfortunately, neither the story of the young man who died nor the story of how I have been impacted is anything new.  Yet, the preponderance of violence, and the need for a solution, has preoccupied my thoughts for months because more and more, as the death toll continues to rise, I am starting to suspect that the cavalry is not coming.

The ugly truth of the matter is that the rise in violence, specifically in major cities like Chicago isn’t because there are less “good” kids or more “bad” kids in underserved communities.  There will always be children who will succeed despite their circumstances due to an incomprehensible level of resiliency.  Likewise, I also believe that there are some people, even children, who are simply so emotionally wounded that no amount of social services, money, or help will make them whole again. Yet, those children who fall somewhere in the middle, who are vulnerable and likely to be persuaded towards doing “right” and “wrong” per the options that they see as most viable are the ones whose lives we must fight for.

We must create clear pathways for these children.  We must create better incentives for benchmarks that encourage success (outside of social promotions and meaningless high school graduations).

We need scalable ways to incentivize positive behavior for youth who have come to believe that it doesn’t “pay” to do the right thing.

iPods for good grades/community service?

A xbox with the completion of a trade program?

Snitches get used cars?

I don’t know what the right mixture of incentives looks like.

Am I encouraging the bribing of non-criminal, inner city children who show potential?

Why yes, that’s exactly what I am doing.

…Because on the other side of the bribe you  may have a student with better grades, an iPod, and a pathway to self-sufficiency instead of a child in prison or dead because they thought drug dealing was the only way to get what they wanted.


A little boy died tonight.

I may never know the circumstances of his death.

Yet, I will forever ponder the choices that led him to the corner where he was shot and whether there is anything that can be done to keep other children from doing the same.


[Image courtesy of]

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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at

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