Mary-Margaret Sweeney

Mary-Margaret Sweeney

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Urban Violence, Domestic Violence, and Vicarious Trauma In Chicago: Part I

I’ve been thinking about violence a lot lately. As a social worker, as a Chicagoan, as a feminist.

Last week, I was in Indianapolis, Indiana, my hometown, visiting friends. Monday, my best friend, husband, and I venture to south central Indiana and spent the afternoon at Oliver Winery.

I sat in the sun and laughed with my best friend and my husband. The next day, we journeyed home to Chicago. And the first headline I read when I fired up the Chicago Tribune was that within walking distance of my home, a gang shooting has claimed one life and critically injured four while I was listening to a waterfall and eating cheese. I don’t often walk that intersection, and actually even try to avoid it as a bus route, because it’s pretty dicey. So it sort of feels removed. But it is also, in actuality, walking distance from me, one L stop north of my L stop, and in my zip code.

We bought our current home in March of last year, so almost a year and half ago. In that time, there have only been three shootings on blocks that I actually frequent: blocks I take on my daily commute, to walk my dog, to my local coffeehouse. And I realized recently that saying “only three shootings” makes a lot of sense in Chicago where some neighborhoods experience daily violence, but to utter those phrase in south central Indiana, or even Indianapolis proper, sounds ludicrous. Indy of course has an inner-city, and the same problems any major city faces. But the body count in Chicago is unrivaled. We are now known nationally for this, and when I walk to Montrose Harbor and in one glance can see Lake Michigan stretching out like a great ocean to the horizon, a sandy beach of picnics, a bird sanctuary, and the gleaming skyline in the distance, I can almost forget that just miles away, some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the nation exist, in the same zip code as this inspiring view, that fills me with emotions every single time, gang shootings are perhaps not as regular, but still not unheard of.

Nothing illustrates our city’s violence problem better than the documentary, The Interrupters. The film follows CeaseFire, an organization operating in the most violent areas of the city. Violence Interrupters mediate potential incidences of violence. If a shooting has taken place, the Interrupters try to stop the retaliative violence that will undoubtedly occur. Most of the Interrupters are men and were formerly gang members, or have served time for violent crimes. They understand why the violence happens, and they are respected by those perpetuating the violent cycle. The documentary is one of my favorites. I’ve made donations to their organization since, and have real respect for all the men and women who work to quell some of the violence in my city.

Well, in May, one of CeaseFire’s founder, Tio Hardiman, was arrested on domestic violence charges.

Hardiman was convicted of beating his wife, Allison, though she dropped the prosecution of these charges in July. He was also convicted of domestic violence against his ex-wife in 1999. Ceasefire let him go after this recent conviction, which I applaud.

This is problematic for the obvious, right? Anti-violence activist is violent. I’ve been mulling this all summer. And it makes me physically ill. I re-watched The Interrupters this week, and hearing Hardiman talk about violence in his community was so difficult, knowing that he has also been a perpetrator of violence, and recently. Is violence against women not violence? Does it matter less?

When Trayvon Martin was killed, and George Zimmerman not convicted, many of us wondered, do Black lives not matter? When someone shoots up an elementary school full of white children, the NRA publicly declares that teachers should arm themselves for protection. No such declaration was issued to Black men after Martin’s death.

This is not the Oppression Olympics, because nobody “wins”–intersectionality of race, gender, sexuality, and class don’t allow for it. It’s all bound together. So I am not suggesting that women are worse off. Clearly, we have a problem with violence when the biggest threat to mortality for young Black men is being killed in violent crime.

But when you search “Tio Hardiman” on Google, none of the first hits are about his recent violence against his wife. In fact, one of the first hits is an article he wrote for HuffPo about urban violence–with no mention of his own actions.

I’ll dissect his article in HuffPo in a later post, as I think it is a very telling example of how we think of violence against women as separate and different–and of course, in ways, it is. But then, not really at all.

In the meantime, I’ll vacillate between escape and engagement: for my own mental health, do I retreat to a safer place on the earth? It doesn’t make the violence go away, but it removes it from my immediate, daily experience. But, does staying help anything? Does exercising my agency to leave insult those without it, or honor it?

Written by Mary-Margaret Sweeney
SJS Student Liaison

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One Response

  1. Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D. September 6, 2013

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