Stephon Foster, 7, bikes by a crime scene in Avalon Park, Chicago, where two people were shot, June 2014.

Living in the Line of Fire

How can you move on when your community is nearly defined by loss? Fear, resilience, and funerals with the locals of Chicago’s South and West Sides, where gun violence is epidemic.
Stephon Foster, 7, bikes by a crime scene in Avalon Park, Chicago, where two people were shot, June 2014.

Over 1,800 people were shot in Chicago this year. More than 400 of them died. Some years, more people have died from gun violence in that city than in Los Angeles and New York combined; in some neighborhoods, shootings are a terrifying daily event. And yet, contrary to what certain politicians might say, Chicago is not the murder capital of America—not even close. Instead, last year it barely scraped into the top ten for shootings per capita, far behind Cleveland, New Orleans, and St. Louis (the actual murder capital of America). And that may be because most of its shootings happen in just two parts of the city, which are scarred by years of racist policies and municipal neglect: the South and West Sides.

Photojournalist Alex Wroblewski started documenting the effects of gun violence in Chicago in 2013. After days spent covering news stories for local outlets, he started turning his lens on his own South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park after-hours in an attempt to understand the ongoing violence that affected his mostly low-income, African American and Latino neighbors. By 2014, when Wroblewski took the photographs shown here, the city’s homicide rate was down, but the number of shootings had increased. Shooting incidents and deaths have risen and fallen and risen since then, with Chicago residents, police, and politicians laying blame for the crime epidemic on everything from illegal gun sales to a lack of “faith.” This past August, 71 people were shot in a single weekend. Afterward, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that hundreds more cops would be sent out into affected neighborhoods, but he also claimed that what residents really needed was an “attitudinal change.”

That’s not the kind of solution residents are looking for. Instead, at the beginning of October, two Chicago mothers and one grandmother brought a class-action lawsuit against Illinois governor Bruce Rauner for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act. Rauner vetoed a crucial gun-sales law earlier this year; the plaintiffs want their state to be called to account for the trauma that is literally handicapping their children. This may be the first time mental health has been used as a legal argument for gun control in Illinois. Fear is a powerful motivator, but resilience can be, too.

A neighbor peeks out the window at the scene where a 22-year-old man was shot on South Perry Avenue, Chicago, April 2014.
Two teenage boys were shot in front of Vincent David Johnson’s house on East 50th Place, June 2014. “The kid who said he was [one of the victim’s] brother was picking up cash while I’m holding his brother’s hand, while he’s lying in a puddle of water,” says Johnson. He called 911 and held the boy’s hand before he died. The boy was only 17.
After two men are shot in a drive-by in the neighborhood of Englewood in June 2014, a woman finds herself stuck behind a fence around a building; the back door of the building is locked, and police won’t allow her to walk through the crime scene in front of the gate. “I just want to go home,” she says.
Police arrest young men in the Oakland neighborhood in June 2014. Four people were shot a few blocks away earlier in the day.
Police comb the crime scene for evidence after 11-year-old Shamiya Adams is killed, July 2014.
A boy reacts to the news that his 17-year-old brother has been shot, June 2014.
Locals kids play tug-of-war in Englewood, June 2014.
A young woman is detained by police after fighting near where a man was shot in the leg near West 87th Street and South Morgan Street in July 2014.
Father Michael Pfleger, a local pastor and activist, leads an anti-violence march near where two people were shot, June 2014.
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Hundreds of mourners gather at Forest Park Baptist Church for Shamiya Adams’s funeral, July 2014. The 11-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet during a sleepover.
A family hangs out in the West Side neighborhood of Austin, 2013.
Police search the crime scene after Shamiya Adams’s death, July 2014. An 18-year-old will later be charged with her murder.
Friends and family of 22-year-old Carnesha Fort pay their respects at her funeral, June 2014. Fort was shot and killed in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.
A shop window broken by a bullet in the South Shore neighborhood, June 2014.
Preacher Charles D. Short and another man were shot and killed on South Princeton Avenue as they waited to buy ice cream from a truck, May 2014.
Police tape off an area where two people were shot at West 66th Street and South Fairfield Avenue, May 2014.
Lamont Peterson (right) and a friend pay their respects to Lamont’s brother Brandon at a memorial in East Garfield Park. Brandon was shot while standing outside their home, June 2014.
Two-year-old Aurora Dawson plays near her and her mother’s house while police investigate the scene of a shooting in the background, at West 80th Street and South Paulina Street, June 2014.
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