Thursday night around 6 p.m., I pushed out of Lawrence’s entryway C door to be hit by a 50-degree wind chill. Welcome to New Haven. A light jog turned into a full sprint down Elm Street to Yorkside Pizza, my ritual dinner spot in anticipation for Thursday-night paper writing. I assumed I didn’t need a jacket because it was just around the corner, but the wind proved me wrong. My desire to retreat into warmth powered my every step.
But Christin Ross’ desire for refuge was greater than mine. Fear and pure terror intensified her steps. She pushed out of those River Oaks Mall doors, hoping to find her safe destination. Instead, she was hit with bullets from a car driving by. Welcome to Chicago.
At Yale, we only know about my neighborhood as a place of crime and violence — reported about in the news as though it were a war zone. But each shooting has a story — it’s not just another statistic. I am tired of proving that I am some exception to the rule: the one person who matters in a sea of faceless unknown people from the South Side.
After getting back to my dorm, I opened my laptop and continued writing my paper for what seemed like forever. I sat at my desk, worried about finishing before the deadline. Thankfully, I turned in the paper on time that Friday morning.
The mall reopened around the same time, not even 24 hours after Christin was shot in its parking lot. The mall’s priorities were clear. I can only imagine Christin’s family in the hospital, worried about the fate of their 18-year-old daughter. Writing to their friends and neighbors, eliciting their prayers. Waiting for the doctor for what would seem like an eternity.
Saturday, I celebrated the coming break and completion of my fifth paper.
That was the day my friend Christin lost her fight for life.
Christin and I come from similar backgrounds and parts of Chicago. But here at Yale, people see me as breaking their stereotype of what it means to be from the South Side. My question is: why should there be a stereotype to be broken in the first place? Although Christin and I are from the same place, we each have our own depth: our own hobbies, interests and favorite foods.
At Yale, to say you’re from Chicago is to slap a regional identity on your forehead. You’re either from the glorious, wealthy and white Downtown metropolitan area or the warlike, poverty-stricken and POC ghettos that make up “the other part of the city.”
I’m from the latter, where mass media and newscasters have painted the South Side and its surrounding suburbs to be nothing but violent and desecrated. “Chiraq” is the term I hear most often, a term that perpetuates the preconceived criminality of the black and brown children I grew up with.
I remember Christin Ross as being the captain of the cheerleading team and co-captain of the dance team. She was bright, creative and full of life — a story that wasn’t conveyed through the news report that only identified her by where she came from. The same news story that most people at Yale would have read, if they even would have read it all.
The narrative that is widely accepted about my city and its suburbs justifies the piling up of black and brown bodies there, viewing the people who live there as criminals and — paradoxically — victims of their own decisions.
The police called Thursday’s crime a targeted act, and mall authorities testified that it wasn’t random, as if Christin was to blame for the bullets that killed her. But this impersonal narrative doesn’t account for the Christin I knew. It disregards how economically disadvantaged and racially segregated the region is. It fails to consider how oftentimes these “criminals” are victims of violence themselves. This narrative about the South Side of Chicago and the southern suburbs fuels the call for more policing and subsequently more prisoners, but neglects the need for greater resources toward education and mobility.
I am not an exception to the common South Side narrative, because there shouldn’t even be a South Side narrative. It is important to stray away from regional identifiers that desensitize black on black crime, and instead work to change the discourse on black teenagers that make up these communities.
Changing the narrative will open the eyes of the nation to the understanding that this region is not innately violent but rather innately disadvantaged and deserving of better resources.
Because after all, Christin could’ve been here at Yale, and I could’ve been the one walking outside those mall doors.
Zaporah Price is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .