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Murder city? Not to us

A Chicago Police Officer was shot leg late Wednesday evening near 111Th Loomis. The injured officer was taken Advocate Christ

A Chicago Police Officer was shot in the leg late Wednesday evening near 111Th and Loomis. The injured officer was taken to Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn. Officers move out to canvas the scene even with K-9 dog. August 29 2012. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:45PM

Earlier this month, men wearing balaclavas and carrying assault rifles burst into a jewelry store in Grenoble, France. They fired into the glass cases, clubbed the jeweler with a rifle butt, grabbed the loot and fled with a hostage.

“It’s worse than Chicago!” one bystander told the Le Parisien newspaper.

One of the many ironies of Chicago’s deadly summer is that while many here expend scant concern about the problem — no worries, not my part of town — the world is gazing at it with horrified fascination.

Velkommen til dodens by” a recent headline in Norway reads. “Welcome to murder city.”

“Chicago gang crime murder out of control,” announces a headline, in Chinese, on the SinoVision.Net website. The story begins: “This summer, Chicago is filled with blood, sweat and tears.”

That’s a common mistake. To assume the city is in a general grief state — it must be, given the toll — and miss that Chicagoans who aren’t themselves in high crimes areas seem willing to shrug off the problem. Abroad, neighborhood distinctions that help Chicagoans feel secure fly by observers, who treat the city as if it were one unified place.

“Nine dead, thirty-two wounded in an exchange of gunfire,” began a story in Le Monde, as if they also all occurred at once. “This is the heavy toll of last weekend.”

Chicagoans know to remain mute at the racial aspect of the killing — it goes without saying. Not so in other countries

“A total of 433 people died on these streets last year, most of them African Americans killed by African Americans,” explained a story on the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s website titled, “Murder City.”

That story ran May 29, before the lethal summer even began, a reminder that one reason our murder epidemic so resonates abroad is because it meshes with the “rat-tat-tat” view the city is already saddled with.

Ti aspetti la citta di Al Capone,” is the first sentence in an Italian journalist’s 2004 book about Chicago. “You expect the city of Al Capone.” Well some do, obviously.

At times, the foreign press seems so shocked it has to stretch the facts.

“Forget the Windy City or the City of Broad Shoulders,” the Australian story reports, fancifully. “The people who live here call it murder city, or Chi-raq.”

Since when?

While the local media focuses on detailing the drip-drip-drip of shootings, abroad they seem more given to general shock. We forget how rare murder is elsewhere. More murders have occurred this year in Chicago, with a population of 2.8 million, than were committed last year on the continent of Australia, population 22 million. Nearly twice as many, and it’s still August. Our murder rate is 10 times theirs. Yet there can be this strange disconnect. Just as soldiers and their families bear the brunt of our wars, so members of the blood-soaked communities grieve and suffer while the rest of the city turns a blind eye and goes blithely about its business.

I drove the length of Chicago on Wednesday, to Hegewisch, which to a foreigner might seem directly on the bloody South Side. To a local, it’s a world away, a sleepy enclave as menacing as your grandmother’s sewing bag. The threat of crime never crossed my mind, until I got home and read an email from a concerned reader in Norway that ended, “hopefully u n ur family r safe.”

In Northbrook? Safe as can be. Not everyone is so lucky. The media hasn’t been indifferent — the Sun-Times certainly splashes the story over the front page with sickening regularity. But if people aren’t actually being killed en masse the night before, the sense of urgency falls away. A 15-year-old kid shot a cop Wednesday night and the cop shot him back. And that was a mild night, relatively.

Part of it has to be racial. If those were white people dying the media would be far more worked up. One 23-year-old athlete from Wheaton killed in St. Louis got more attention than a dozen 23-year-olds killed on the South Side receive. Part has to be the problem is so entrenched. What can be done? Putting cops on the street can thwart it for a while, but the underlying issues remain, ticking. Cops can’t be on every corner 24 hours a day. Crime is both the symptom and cause of every other social problem — no jobs, poor education, bad parenting, drugs. We’ve tried to address them before and failed, and now the poster boy for ignoring social issues, Mitt Romney, might just end up president.

If blood on our streets doesn’t bother us, maybe blood on our reputation will.

“Called the deadliest ‘alpha world city’ — with that title comparing it to global cities like New York, London, Los Angeles or Tokyo — Chicago has seen 19.4 murders per 100,000,” London’s Daily Mail reported.

Why do I suspect that some people will read “deadliest world city” and come away thinking, “Hey, Chicago’s a world city! Cool.”

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