Lives lived amid violence’s stain

We’ve turned a bend in the road.

No, violence hasn’t evaporated. And I’m not sure we’re measuring the reach of the plague well.

The bend we’ve passed is how we tell the story of violence.

How we plumb the depths of what it does to a family, a street, a neighborhood, a city.

Much of the time, we count numbers, capture quotes and move on. We report on the victims of the violence, but we don’t get inside their lives and their world.

Violence here and everywhere is a like a car crash.

If we only report on the crash, we ignore everything that built up to it. And we wrongly pass over everything that follows.

If we only count murders, we ignore the many hundreds of others who are injured physically or mentally, or who arm themselves out of fear, or who withdraw from the streets or just move on, saying that’s the only escape.

If we only count the murders and make that the story then we ignore the drug traffic on the streets that drives pushers and sellers and leaves a community numb with few rehabilitation options.

We ignore the reality of what happens when folks come back from prison without any change in their thinking and without the likelihood of jobs.

But we’ve turned the bend and we are telling a more complex and more important story lately.

The best example of this is the two-part series produced by This American Life on the reality of violence at Chicago’s Harper High School.

For five months, Harper High School officials allowed Alex Kotlowitz, Linda Lutton and Ben Calhoun to look inside the world there as it is marked by violence. The second episode is presented this Friday evening and Saturday morning.

If you are telling the story of violence in Chicago, consider this as a model to take us beyond the body count.

Here’s the first episode.

And while you are listening to these episodes, consider this reporting on how school officials are apparently

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz

shielding the release of the count of students caught up in the shootings.

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