A few days ago, a nine year old boy was gunned down in an alley on the south side of Chicago. This event has been repeated numerous times in this City. Young children, mostly African American, gunned down on the city streets either as victims of misguided gunfire, or, intentional targets. The latest victim, just last week, was lured into the public alley near his grandmother’s home, and shot multiple times, execution style. Reportedly in retaliation for actions of his father. The community is outraged. Father is cloaked in silence. It’s the code of the neighborhood. Almost everyone knows that he knows who was behind the heinous crime. But, my reason for this story isn’t to talk about the crime in my city, the senseless loss of life, or the apparent indifference of the father in this matter. I am saddened by the loss of this boy’s childhood.
I grew up in Chicago. I grew up in a time when Chicago was a wonderful place to be a child. the city was growing too. The other day, as I read more about the slaying of this young boy, I thought about what it was like when I was his age, nine years old, growing up in my Chicago neighborhood. What was I experiencing. What was going on around me. November 3, 1967.
Lyndon Johnson signed a bill establishing the Public Broadcasting System. Most of us could care less. Our tv watching consisted of black and white programming on a 15 inch Zenith tube. Usually no more than an hour or so a day. The war in VietNam was growing. Unrest in the states was on the increase. Race riots, largely confined to cities in the south now migrated into northern urban areas. Yet, for the most part, my world in the west side of Chicago was quiet.
Along with my brothers and sisters, we would walk to and from our Catholic grade school seven blocks from our home. We would walk to the grocery store a couple of blocks away. There was a greasy spoon diner where we would occasionally buy dinner, hamburgers and fries were a treat on a very rare evening. My father would give us a couple of dollars to stop by the Walgreen’s on the corner to buy him a pack of cigarettes. This was our normal life. From our home, if we squinted on a clear day, and we gazed toward the east, we could see the rising skyline of downtown Chicago. In the evenings we would hang out in our back alley and watch the grease monkeys tinker with their cars. We worried about very little. We certainly didn’t worry about getting shot.
Tyshawn Lee was a nine year old boy. He was shot and killed on November 3, 2015. Forty eight years ago, I was a nine year old boy, walking the alleys and never fearing that a bullet will rip through me, at any point, and kill me. Today, the city should be mournful of the loss not only of this little nine year old boy, but of the innocence that we have all lost. I still wander Chicago’s alleys from time to time. They used to hold a magic for me.