Another price of segregation: not just homicide, but countless walking wounded

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A bumper sticker held by a child during a recent peace vigil in the Washington Park neighborhood
  • Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • A bumper sticker held by a child during a recent peace vigil in the Washington Park neighborhood
Five people were shot in South Shore early Monday evening outside a currency exchange. The offender approached on foot, began firing, and fled. No one was killed, but four of the shooting victims were hospitalized in serious condition.

As of yesterday afternoon, two of the victims were still in serious condition; the condition of the others had been upgraded to good. No one was in custody. A police spokesperson said the shooting may have stemmed from an earlier altercation.

In all, 11 people were shot in Chicago Monday evening and Tuesday morning, all on the south and west sides. None of the shootings were fatal.

Chicago's high homicide rate has gotten much attention this year. Through November, there'd been 480 homicides here, up 21 percent from 2011.

The vast majority of these homicides resulted from shootings. And the vast majority of them happened in Chicago's poor black neighborhoods.

I wrote a couple of posts this summer about the relationship between concentrated poverty and homicide. The multitude of homicides in Chicago was a legacy of segregation, I said—segregation that was imposed on blacks by whites here, with the help of government, starting around 1910. Decades of segregation and discrimination have cultivated gangs and violence on the south and west sides, along with joblessness, poor health, and high dropout rates. I wrote that residents of neighborhoods such as Englewood and West Garfield Park would continue to pay the price until Chicago faced up to the problem it had created, and worked to fix it.

As awful as the homicides are, the toll goes way beyond them. The mortality rates for the leading nonviolent causes of death—cancer, heart disease, diabetes-related illnesses, stroke, and unintentional injury—are also far higher in the city's poor black neighborhoods.

But let's just consider the shootings today. Besides the toll in deaths, there's the havoc often caused in the lives of those who survive shootings. Through yesterday afternoon, there'd been 2,339 known shooting victims in Chicago this year—up from 2,102 last year. You can guess in which neighborhoods most of those occurred. Shooting victims tend to be young, so the costs to society—health care, long-term disability, lack of productivity—are enormous. And then there's the cost to the victims themselves.

Jooyoung Lee, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, has been studying gunshot victims who survive in Philadelphia. In a paper in the July issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, he described the "messy and often unpredictable lives" of those who survive shootings.

"Gunshot injuries complicate sleeping, eating, working, and other previously taken-for-granted activities," Lee wrote. "These disruptions also have much larger existential significance to victims. Indeed, daily experiences with a wounded body become subjective reminders that individuals are no longer who they used to be."

Twenty-two of the 40 victims in Lee's study still had a bullet in their body. "Retained bullets were a common source of pain and frustration," Lee wrote. "Complaints ranged from chronic irritation and swelling around the wound site to serious infections and debilitating pain that spread across their entire body." Even when the bullets caused no such physical problems, they often were a source of anxiety. "Many victims desperately want their retained bullets removed," Lee wrote. But doctors often don't do so because of the risk of infections and other complications from such a procedure.

Like victims of rape, many gunshot victims fear they'll be victimized a second time by stigma, Lee wrote—by the idea that a gunshot victim "must have been doing something illegal to get shot."

And, indeed, some victims in Lee's study either were doing something illegal, or were shot in gang confrontations—and some took a perverse pride in being shot, Lee said. He told the story of "Kenny," a man in his 20s who'd been shot in the leg, and who was "the first in his small group of street corner drug dealers to get shot." His friends "just look at me like I’m more hard now,” Kenny told Lee. But Kenny was careful not to reveal to his friends that he'd also lost a testicle in the shooting.

People shot in the stomach may need to wear colostomy bags for months or years, Lee said. Other shooting victims may simply develop a limp, like "David," a former college football player who, in his mid-20s, was shot while fleeing from a neighborhood fight he'd been watching until guns were drawn. David told Lee how fast and agile he'd been on the football field. “Now my foot don’t even go up or side-to-side," he told Lee. "It's like dragging a dead person around with you!"

In Chicago yesterday, police superintendent Garry McCarthy announced a further shake-up of his command staff, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged a "level of frustration" with the city's violence.

Steve Bogira writes about segregation every Thursday.

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