The statues are eerily lifelike and fully dressed in the clothes young teens might wear. They hold backpacks and guitar cases, stand or sit in realistic poses. But they have no faces, just a blank hole where their heads should be. They are “Unforgotten,” an exhibit dotting the landscape of downtown Chicago.
Each statue represents a young person gunned down in Illinois in the recent past. Their purpose is to highlight the huge loss to our society caused by handgun violence. According to the Chicago Tribune, more than 400 people in Chicago were killed last year.
Such persistent, meaningless violence has led critics to dub the city “Chiraq,” a name that is causing some controversy. As Chicago rapper Aaron Pierce put it, “That name belittles our city, and I feel like it dehumanizes us.” Yet it is the name filmmaker Spike Lee has chosen for an upcoming movie.
Is it fair? Is Chicago a war zone? From the almost daily headlines, it would seem that there is a similarity between our city and a place where terrorism runs rampant. Yet statistically, violence in Chicago “has been on a steady decline since the early to mid-1990s.” (Chicago Tribune)
Perhaps it’s the prevalence of online sites, You Tube videos, and social media that have brought gun deaths to light more and more. More likely, though, it is the proliferation of handguns. According to Joseph Erbentraut in the Huffington Post, while the total number of homicides showed a modest decrease from 2013 to 2014, the number of shootings went up. As Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said with reference to the increase, “If these guys are throwing rocks at each other we wouldn’t have this problem.” (Erbentraut, Huff Post, 12/31/14)
Supporters of gun rights have been the winners in recent years in terms of the lax control on gun sales and the success of open carry laws. But Americans are fighting the trend. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization dedicated to stopping senseless gun violence, has been waging a battle in state houses across the country to gain common sense legislation controlling who has access to guns. They are also defeating open carry legislation, especially with regard to guns in schools.
It may be an uphill battle, but many people are saying, Enough is enough. On a recent sunny day, families and passersby wept as they gazed at the hollow statues posed in the St. James Cathedral Plaza in Chicago. It’s time to put a stop to the rampant gun violence in our city, retire the ugly title “Chiraq,” and make sure our children living and dead are “unforgotten.”