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Memorials reveal a sense of helplessness

CHICAGO IL - MARCH 12: Flowers stuffed animals lie vigil for slainfant Jonylah Watkins March 12 2013 Chicago Illinois. The

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 12: Flowers and stuffed animals lie at a vigil for slain infant Jonylah Watkins on March 12, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The 6-month-old girl was shot five times on the 6500 block of South Maryland Avenue while her father was changing her diaper in the passenger seat of his car. The father, Jonathan Watkins remains is stable condition at Nothwestern Memorial Hospital after receiving three gunshot wounds.(Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 163719403

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Updated: April 18, 2013 6:26AM

Those memorials drive me crazy.

You know the ones I’m talking about. The piles of teddy bears and flowers sitting below balloons at the site of where yet another person has been gunned down in Chicago.

Those memorials that TV cameras flock to, where they’ll capture images of yet another crowd of young people writing on poster boards, not for a school project but to scribble words of sympathy. Those memorials that will be in the photos that newspapers — and now social media — take of crowds wearing buttons and T-shirts with the victim’s photo, manufactured in what seems like less time than it takes to transfer the body to the funeral home.

I see these memorials and wonder why instead of just accepting that this is what we do in Chicago — they’ve made my skin crawl since they first started cropping up — they make me angrier than ever.

I think it’s because the memorials tell me that we have spent more time figuring out how to mourn someone who has been murdered than in figuring out how to keep them alive.

The memorials remind me that in some neighborhoods there’s just not much else people feel they can do. And I can’t look at them without thinking — no, without knowing — that in most of these neighborhoods, it wasn’t always like this.

I was born and raised on the South Side. When I go there now, I still travel the same way my Dad and I did back when I was a teenager and we were driving home from the shoestore he managed at 35th and King Drive. Down this side street and that, using shortcuts that are part of my life.

And for so long I could point out homes, businesses and tell little stories about life on those streets.

But not anymore. I drive down the same streets now and they are as lifeless as the people who have died on them. Almost entire blocks now are nothing more than barren earth, sharing alleys with blocks that are more of the same. They look like a bomb hit there. Little neighborhood markets, beauty shops, cleaners, the corner tavern? All gone. There are no businesses, there are no jobs. There is no life.

In some spots, all that remains is an occasional storefront church and the one flicker of hope, the neighborhood school. And soon those schools will be gone because people say we can’t afford them. I’m telling you, we can’t afford not to have them.

Everything on too many of those streets is dead, except for that one trade, drugs.

I know all the admonishments: say no to drugs, it takes a village to parent, we have too many guns, people need to give up the name of shooters. I know that the me who lives in a comfortable home and has a good-paying career agrees with all that. But who knows how I — or anyone else — would live life on these streets with no path to a better way?

That’s why those memorials bother me so much. They speak volumes about the streets where they pop up, where we expect children to live and prosper. How?

All these little memorials, with their teddy bears and balloons — and the empty neighborhoods in which we find them — tell me that too many of our young know more about dying than living.

And that is why they drive me crazy.

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