Protest in Douglas Park

During Obama’s visit, doubts about guns – and gun laws

By Morgan Gilbard, Julia Cardi, Marisa Endicott
and Anna Boisseau

Kids in Chicago’s Douglas Park respect local killers more than celebrities.

That’s what a North Lawndale resident named Bryan sees in his West Side neighborhood several weeks after a gunman shot him in the back. The police have made no progress in his case, but the pain persists, as do the questions.

“I can’t even pick my baby up,” says Bryan, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisals. “I don’t look at things the same way.”

President Obama called for smarter policing and stronger gun laws in his speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police on Tuesday. After meeting with families that lost children to gun violence, he said it is easier in some neighborhoods to buy a gun than to buy a book.

“We’ve got to get on top of it before it becomes an accelerating trend,” Obama said.

For many in neighborhoods such as North Lawndale, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. staged his Chicago freedom campaign in 1966, the trend is already clear. Gun violence is a vivid thread in the social fabric, weaving through such persistent problems as poverty, joblessness and poor schools.

Unemployment is North Lawndale is 21.1 percent, sharply higher than the citywide Chicago rate of 12.9 percent, according to U.S. census data from 2008 to 2012. The neighborhood is also poorer than the city as a whole, with 43.1 percent of North Lawndale households living below the poverty line, compared with Chicago’s 19.7 percent.

North Lawndale has recorded 550 violent crimes in the past six months, according to the Chicago Police Department, putting the community second to Austin for the highest totals in the city.

On a rainy late October afternoon in Douglas Park, the mood matched the weather, despite Obama’s call for action.

“It’s easier to get a gun in our neighborhood than a job,” says Bryan, who reports that gun violence has rocked his life since childhood. Several friends and relatives have been shot – or done the shooting. “I was taught I would live longer if I was alone.”

Tykeshia Jones, 19, knows the phenomenon all too well. As she walked through Douglas Park to visit her boyfriend, admitted to St. Anthony’s Hospital with a gunshot wound, she said she has little hope that new gun laws will fix the problem.

She is not alone, in a year that has seen shootings spike. Bryan, his back aching and his job prospects thin, is considering moving to the suburbs. A neighborhood resident named William, who would not give his last name, sees distressing similarities between the 1950s and today.

As for Obama’s push for stricter gun laws, William doubts it will matter.

“Crooks,” he says, “are going to get more guns anyway.”