On the stoop of a house on a dilapidated block in Englewood, the south side Chicago neighbourhood that tops the city’s statistics for murder, drug addiction, teen pregnancy and most of other indices of social dysfunction, are eight young African-American men and two or three women. It’s an oven-hot summer afternoon and the group is kicking back, drinking, shouting and laughing.
“I don’t like crowd scenes,” says Shango, a member of the city’s anti-violence project, CeaseFire, as we pull up outside. He explains that such gatherings increase the chances of becoming a victim of a drive-by shooting.
The street we’re in stands in the middle of a few blocks that have seen three murders in recent days, and countless more in the previous months and years. “Can’t no anybody park up on this block,” says Shango, who beneath his dreads wears an expression of mournful unflappability. His companion, TJ, a former prisoner and one of CeaseFire’s more seasoned outreach workers, tells me that summer is the “killing season” because there’s no refuge for grievances. In winter the freezing weather forces people inside, where tempers have time to cool.
One of the group on the stoop, a slim-built guy with a tattoo that crawls up out of the top of his vest like a weed, hobbles over to us on the sidewalk. His left foot is in plaster, the result of a high velocity encounter with a bullet.
This is Dee, a reformed veteran of the south side’s street wars. With his tattoos, gunshot wound and lively choice of company, he may not be Chicago’s answer to Mahatma Gandhi, but he is nonetheless a new recruit to the cause of peace.