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Living in Violence – The New York Times

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Thirty-five people were killed in mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa over the past few weeks, focusing national attention on America’s unique gun problem.

In that same time, around 1,800 people were killed and almost 500 wounded in nearly 1,600 other shootings in the U.S., including at a Los Angeles warehouse party over the weekend. Mass shootings account for less than 4 percent of gun homicides in a typical year, and most gun violence in the U.S. takes a different form. So I went to Chicago, where shootings are a daily occurrence in some areas, to see what more-typical gun violence looks like.

There, I met 24-year-old Jomarria Vaughn. After spending time in jail on domestic violence and weapon charges, he has tried to rebuild his life. But his past haunts him.

The last time he was on Facebook, he found out his best friend had been shot to death. He now tries to stay off the site, out of fear that posting the wrong thing could anger the wrong people — and make him a target.

In his neighborhood, he tries to avoid spending too much time “out on the block,” he said. Even if he is not a target, violence is so common there that Vaughn worries he could be hit by a stray bullet.

“I’m scared,” Vaughn told me. “I have my guard up all day.”

This is what daily life looks like for many Black Chicagoans. Across the city, the murder rate for Black people is higher than it was from the 1980s through the 1990s — a violent period that drove a nationwide push for mass incarceration. Black Chicagoans are nearly 40 times more likely to be shot to death than their white peers, according to an analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

The violence is highly concentrated: Just 4 percent of city blocks account for the majority of shootings across Chicago, according to the Crime Lab.

Similar disparities exist across America. Black and brown neighborhoods suffer higher rates of poverty, and violence concentrates around poverty. The violence is so intensive that a few neighborhoods, blocks or people often drive most of the shootings and murders in a city or county. And this is true in both urban and rural areas, said Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at Princeton.

The disparities have held up as murders have spiked across the country since 2020. So while the numbers are typically reported through a national lens, the reality on the ground is that a small slice of the population — disproportionately poor, Black and brown — suffers the most from it.

The concentration of violence has another effect: It pushes violence out of sight for most people.

In Chicago, 51 people were shot in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend — a five-year high. Almost all of the victims were on the city’s South and West Sides, which are mostly Black and brown.

Only when violence hits closer to home does it typically grab more people’s attention. That happened nationwide this year after mass shootings in schools and grocery stores, where Americans can imagine themselves or loved ones falling victim. In Chicago, public outrage over a shooting last month that killed a 16-year-old boy downtown — a richer, whiter area — prompted the mayor to impose a curfew for minors.

But that is the kind of violence that poorer, minority communities deal with daily, with little to no public attention. The vast majority of shootings never make national headlines.

Speaking to Black activists and residents in Chicago, I was struck by how they spoke almost dispassionately about the violence around them. They all had stories of dead friends and family members killed in gang shootings, episodes of domestic violence or road rage, or during petty conflicts over women — the shootings sometimes just days or weeks apart. Outside their homes, the sound of gunshots is common.

As I traveled around Chicago, the two worlds were clearly visible. Wealthier parts looked like a modern, rich city — parking meters and payment terminals built for smartphones, bustle around packed businesses, and residents on electric bikes and scooters. Poor areas were marked by disinvestment: homes in disrepair, boarded-up buildings and few to no stores.

What I saw exemplifies a vicious cycle that causes the concentration of violence in an area, experts said. Poverty leads to violence, which leads to disinvestment, which leads to more poverty and violence. Coupled with a police force that fails to solve most murders and shootings, the cycle becomes difficult to break.

By contrast, other communities have a host of social supports keeping violence at bay, including good jobs, better schools, well-kept parks and recreation centers, and responsive police.

So for most Americans, violence is something they may hear about on the news but do not deal with on a regular basis. But for people in the hardest-hit communities, violence is a fact of daily life. Like Vaughn, they come to expect it — and worry that they could be the next victim.

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