Sometimes, it’s the little things that tell the bigger story.
Two small details in recent NBC Chicago stories on violence in Chicago paint a picture of how Chicago’s ongoing crime problem is viewed, at least in part, by those charged with stopping the carnage and those who are living in its shadow.
The first comes from a September 18 story about shots fired along a Safe Passage route near Washington Park Elementary School on the city’s South Side. You may remember Safe Passage routes as the Mayor’s answer to charges that after closing 47 elementary schools this year, many children would have to take new routes to school through unfamiliar and often dangerous territory. The program is supposed to provide security for the 13,000 children whose schools were closed.
As shots rang out along a Safe Passage route on a Wednesday afternoon, however, it was those on the front lines of Chicago’s ongoing battleground who had to unexpectedly provide the security. Buried in the middle of NBC Chicago story was one simple line:
“Teachers helped students get to the ground during the gunfire.”
The other detail came from a story two days ago, reported right here by Ward Room staff. The topic was whether or not the issue of combatting gun violence in Chicago was one of resources, and whether Chicago police could use some help from reinforcements such as the National Guard or the Illinois State Police. Speaking after a police graduation ceremony, Supt. McCarthy dismissed the idea as unnecessary:
“The National Guard is not a policing force, they are a military force," he said. "By the way, might I remind you of where we are in comparison to where we were last year and in 2011 and compared to the 90s. Let's stop the hysteria."
There. Did you catch it? That telling little detail that shows how McCarthy and, by extension, the current administration, views the response to carnage on Chicago’s streets?
There’s little doubt the administration is feeling embattled by public pressure and the daily drumbeat of news over the senseless killings that go on and on in this town. Quite frankly, any administration faced with the same reality would be.
But the apparent spat between Emanuel and Gov. Quinn over the use of Illinois State Police—Quinn says he's ready to send State Police to help Chicago's Police Departments but Emanuel hasn’t picked up the phone to discuss it—along with rejecting calls for more resources to solve the problem suggests there are those in the administration who view this more as a political or a PR problem than a crisis.
McCarthy and others like to point to Chicago’s dropping murder rate, a true fact but one that doesn't tell the whole story. And, sure, Emanuel took a ride with police through some hard-hit neighborhoods this past weekend. And, yes, the city is spending tens of millions of dollars in overtime pay for extra police patrols in high crime areas.
But whenever teachers find themselves having to help students to the ground to avoid random gunfire along a supposedly safe area of the city, the response—any response—from parents, politicians, citizens, reporters or anyone else can’t rightfully be called hysteria.
Unless you view the situation as more of a perception problem than anything else.