Living in Violence

In some communities, shootings are a daily occurrence.

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By German Lopez

Thirty-five people were killed in mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa over the past few weeks, focusing national attention on America’s unique gun problem.

In that same time, around 1,800 people were killed and almost 500 wounded in nearly 1,600 other shootings in the U.S., including at a Los Angeles warehouse party over the weekend. Mass shootings account for less than 4 percent of gun homicides in a typical year, and most gun violence in the U.S. takes a different form. So I went to Chicago, where shootings are a daily occurrence in some areas, to see what more-typical gun violence looks like.

There, I met 24-year-old Jomarria Vaughn. After spending time in jail on domestic violence and weapon charges, he has tried to rebuild his life. But his past haunts him.

The last time he was on Facebook, he found out his best friend had been shot to death. He now tries to stay off the site, out of fear that posting the wrong thing could anger the wrong people — and make him a target.

In his neighborhood, he tries to avoid spending too much time “out on the block,” he said. Even if he is not a target, violence is so common there that Vaughn worries he could be hit by a stray bullet.

“I’m scared,” Vaughn told me. “I have my guard up all day.”

This is what daily life looks like for many Black Chicagoans. Across the city, the murder rate for Black people is higher than it was from the 1980s through the 1990s — a violent period that drove a nationwide push for mass incarceration. Black Chicagoans are nearly 40 times more likely to be shot to death than their white peers, according to an analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Homicide rates in Chicago, 1965-2021

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