How Does A Zip Code Affect Our Safety?
When I moved to Chicago, I lived in east Humboldt Park. It was a great neighborhood, but also pretty gritty, just beginning to gentrify; its chief crimes were prostitution, drug trafficking and gang violence. I managed to avoid any involvement in these worlds: I didn't want to buy drugs or sex acts, I didn't know a Latin King from a Disciple, and I was content to leave them all alone. My first visit to Rogers Park was dinner at the Heartland Café. It felt as far from regular city life as a suburb. It seemed sufficiently quiet and bucolic: still with the flavor and benefit of a city neighborhood.
Well, now I do live in Rogers Park, with my fiancé. We moved here not because we were hungering for suburban life, but because it's what we could afford after being forced to escape a truly toxic neighbor situation. While there may be some people who have discovered that pastoral, idyllic corner of Rogers Part, my honey and I have not. Our block straddles a stretch between two constantly blinking police camerasâ€”one of which we can see from our living room at night. I frequently pass by men and women of color who are being questioned, cuffed or carted off by Chicago Police. We are sometimes awoken in the middle of the night by gunfire, and last night some poor guy made the whole neighborhood party to his bad trip, screaming and howling like a soul possessed, while several police officers tried calm him down or take him into custody.
I'm not sure what made me think Rogers Park was any safer or quieter than any other part of the city; but I have been sufficiently disabused of that perception.
I have the same right to live in a safe neighborhood as anyone else. I have the same dream others have. Equal access to good education, healthy food, fair housing, safe neighborhoods and quality employment. We want to be able to raise our families without fearing their loss to a stray bullet or a smooth talker selling danger. But this is not the Chicago we live in. Our Chicago displaces families who have been on the block for decades, so that it can sell their homes to developers who will gut them and build condos like the one I live in. Our Chicago does not care whether the people clogging the cells of Cook County jail are addicts who need treatment, people with mental disorders, or truly violent criminals; it just wants them off the streets, and pays little heed to what kind of treatment is necessary.
But even the wealthy can't pretend they're safe. I'm disappointed when I hear people talk to me about feeling safe in their streets of Lincoln Park with homes that sell in the millions. Women from Lincoln Park used to say to me, “I could never live in a neighborhood like Humboldt Park, it's so violent.”
I'd say, “Really? That's funny, all of the crimes I hear about on the news-- rape, mugging, assault--always seem to involve Lincoln Park. I'm scared to live in your neighborhood.”
I didn't move to Rogers Park thinking I'd found the safe corner of Chicago; because there is no safe corner. We can't chase safety and health to a better school district or a greener street corner, and we can't move others out of their homes like they're a pest problem. Chicagoans care about our communities, and we need to create neighborhoods we can feel safe in. I feel overwhelmed about how and where to start, but we have to make a Chicago that all of us can live in, fairly, equally and safely.