Fourteen names

Each week as part of the service at Unity Temple in Oak Park, the ministers read from the book of the prayers of the people — a book you can write requests in for the congregation to include.  They take pains to include three lists each week:

  • Individuals being held in McHenry County Jail awaiting INS hearings.  Usually this list is too long to read the names, so they read the home countries of the individuals on the list.
  • U.S. Military Men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past week (or since they last read the list).
  • People killed by violence in Chicago in the past week (or since they last read the list).

There were two remarkable things about the list yesterday.  First, there were no individuals on the list of those killed in Afghanistan.  It was the first time in the four years I’ve been attending the church that there were no names on that list.  But then…

There were fourteen people listed on the Chicago death list.

While the sermon that emerged later was interesting, I spent most of the service haunted by that number.


Of course, many smarter writers than I have spent a lot of time on this question.  The violence in this country (and in my city, particularly) springs from economic despair, mostly, and is amplified by a robust black market in illegal drugs and a society awash in easily-obtained firearms.  So many of the deaths are accidental — unintended bystanders shot during a drive-by.

One of the fourteen was an unarmed fifteen year old girl standing outside her school.

I can understand the toothpaste argument.  Guns have been legal and available so long that to make rules now making them illegal harms only the people who follow the rules.   On the other hand, more guns means more gun deaths.  The wild west wasn’t safer because everyone had a pistol on their hip.  And statistics have consistently shown that guns in homes are far more likely to kill innocents than criminals.  Erik Larsen’s book Lethal Passage explores this topic very well.

We see lots of protests and discussions demanding to curb this violence, demanding that the city, or the state, or the government DO something about it.  But what are they to do?  An increased police presence seems likely to turn high crime neighborhoods into military zones, locked down with curfews and tyrannies. (See Davis, City of Quartz.)

The systemic solution seems likely to stem from increased funding for police, for schools, for job programs, for opportunities instead of guns.  But these are slow solutions that take the will of politicians who are elected (and defeated) on fast news cycles.

I despair for my city.  I don’t know what to do to help.  There were fourteen people on the list yesterday.

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