Killed, halfway home.

I live in a lovely, upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago known for its trees, its schools, and its diversity. We’re also known for the safety of our streets, but we live at the edge of chaos, on the literal border of one of the city’s poorest, roughest neighborhoods. Literally: On one side of my town’s eastern border you’ll find our tony little arugula enclave; on the other, abandoned buildings and schools with no libraries.

We are safe here, but occasionally the chaos leaks out and across the street. Over the course of 15 years, I can think of five murders that took place within a few blocks of my home or my regular haunts, all of them Chicago’s violence spread west. These events don’t frighten me, because they don’t belong to me. Someone ran, someone followed. They’re not my story, however heartbreaking they may be.

But last night the chaos leaked out and took the life of a 14 year old boy.

Damani Henard’s family had moved from that rougher, tougher neighborhood to my town, so that he could go to high school here. He had ridden his bike into the city to visit friends and was, according to the Chicago Tribune, “about halfway home” when he was shot in the head and killed, apparently instantly.

That family lives blocks from my home. That boy was enrolled in our high school, would have ridden his bike down the same streets that my boy will walk come fall. His family had done what they could to make him safe, and they probably figured that a 15 minute bike ride down a well-lit, major thoroughfare was safe, too.

But they were wrong. Someone else — also a teenager, a 19 year old young woman named Ashley Hardmon — was shot and killed less than an hour earlier, not far from where Damani was killed. His mom figures her boy was collateral damage. “He coincidentally had on black,” she told reporters — as if, in a functional world, that would in any way consign a boy to death. But the world we live in is not functional.

This is not my story. This was Chicago’s violence. It spilled over again, through the tiny hole of a woman and a family trying to get away. Damani Henard was not my son.

But this is my story. This is my violence. That woman ran to my town to keep her boy alive, and the world in which we both live reached out and snatched him from her. Damani was my boy, just as much as every child in the streets of Chicago and across this grieving nation are my children, the children of all the adults who fail them again and again, unto death. This is what a nation awash with guns looks like: Dead children.

I’ve written before that white privilege is sending your son out into the world without the fear that he will not return — at the time I was referring to state-mandated violence, but race lies deep within the heart of this story, too. Who are Chicago’s poor? What neighborhoods go under-protected by Chicago’s police? What color are the families doing the fleeing? My black neighbors — the upper middle class ones, the professional ones, the ones who dress like me and talk like me and who send their boys to private schools because our high school, the school to which Damani was coming for shelter, doesn’t always serve its black boys well — they know far better than me that class and geography don’t always suffice. Their boys don’t have to be poor, don’t have to be surrounded by gangs, to be in danger. They just have to live inside their skins.

I made my son a cheese sandwich for lunch today. I held him as tight as I could without making him suspicious, without weeping. Damani’s mother will never hold him again.

11 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Amanda's Words / starfire8me and commented:
    BE CAREFUL DUDE!!

  2. Our nation’s children are dying in a war no one wants to talk about. Because it’d have to involve recognizing that our war on drugs is lost, it’d have to involve going after the obscene number of guns on our streets, it’d have to involve getting out of our comfort zones.
    There’s this despairing feeling of impotence, being unable to just reach out and end all this madness, because it has to involve EVERYONE to stop this sh-t. And not everyone wants it to end, because they profit from it or because they revel in the despair of others.

    • And in Chicago we have the truly up-is-down circumstance whereby the old gang structure has been so obliterated that it has actually fostered more violence and less stability, because nothing came to replace and/or improve on it, so now every block’s a clique, and every kid has to be cliqued up.

      Not to mention: I have the increasing impression that the people with power in Chicago are looking to create a Singapore-type situation in which the city center is wealthy and vibrant, and all the poor have been pushed to the margins or to the other side of the border (this idea was presented to me in conversation on Saturday night by a writer at the Tribune, and once he said it, all I’ve observed since Emanuel took office clicked into place).

  3. socioprof

     /  July 3, 2013

    “My black neighbors — the upper middle class ones, the professional ones, the ones who dress like me and talk like me and who send their boys to private schools because our high school, the school to which Damani was coming for shelter, doesn’t always serve its black boys well — they know far better than me that class and geography don’t always suffice. Their boys don’t have to be poor, don’t have to be surrounded by gangs, to be in danger. They just have to live inside their skins.”

    This keeps my mind–and heart–racing. I find myself thinking that my boys should be protected–they have parents with nice incomes, jobs with business cards AND titles, as well as two undergrad and four advanced degrees between them, after all–from the kinds of state and street violence that their Black and male skin too often attracts in our America. And then I have to check myself because all kids should be protected, whether their parents make six figures or are on welfare. All kids should be protected, whether their parents are consultants and professors or sanitation workers and childcare workers or are unemployed or working in the underground economy. All kids should be protected, whether their parents have six degrees or no degrees.

    • I think it makes sense that we do what we can to protect our kids and then feel like that should ensure their protection — and I know you didn’t get four advanced degrees as a protective device, but still, I think it makes sense to think “I’ve made good choices in all kinds of areas. My kids should be safe.” I know I feel this way about our decision to live here rather than in Israel, and every once and awhile I have this shuddering realization much like a wrote about here https://emilylhauserinmyhead.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/parental-need-to-protect-children/ that we can never ensure their safety.

      And for all that, at the same time – this, a thousand times this: “All kids should be protected,” period, full-stop.

  4. salywells

     /  July 3, 2013

    Reblogged this on On the way to wonderland.

  5. Oh, my heart.

    May Damani’s mother find comfort along with all who mourn.

  6. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  July 6, 2013

    This situation is not sustainable. It can’t be. We can’t function as a society with communities walled off, right next door to war zones. Why does Chicago seem so unable to fix this? Is it lack of concern because the victims are black? To those people who say that guns in the right hands would prevent this kind of thing that happens in your area: I say you are the problem.

  7. wearyvoter

     /  July 6, 2013

    This is way too sad.

  1. 2013 Chicago Murders – Timeline – DNAinfo.com Chicago | Creatively Brown
  2. Some thoughts on the Trayvon Martin verdict and Cory Monteith's death. - This Week in Blackness