Keeping Chicago’s body count in the ‘Killing Season’

Chicagoans know they can count on a few things when the weather turns fair in summer: hundreds of thousands will flock to the Lakefront, live bands will play at lunchtime on State Street corners, farmers will haul fresh produce into town for the morning markets, fireworks will light the evening skies at least twice a week, and dozens of our neighbors will be shot to death.

So inured are we to the nighttime gunshots and the next-day numbers that we lose track of the body count.

“As of May 1st 2010, it was estimated that the same number of Americans were killed in Chicago as in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq combined,” writes Krista Wortendyke, a Chicago photographer and artist who has taken it upon herself, like the bell ringers of old, to keep the city’s toll.

“As the temperature rises so does the homicide rate. Beginning on Memorial Day and ending on Labor Day, I will track the homicides in the city. Once the crime scenes are processed and the yellow tape is taken down, I will visit and photograph the location of each murder.”

On June 1, Wortendyke launched the blog “Killing Season: Chicago 2010,” where she posts not only the numbers but the names of the fallen and brief descriptions of each casualty, like this one:

Xiaohong Song, 50

At 1:43 a.m., Song got off the bus following a trip to a casino boat and was approached by two male suspects in the 200 block of West 23rd Street in the Chinatown neighborhood. They grabbed him from behind and strangled him to death.

The death toll was at 59 through July 3, with Fourth of July casualties not yet included (UPDATE: six killed on the Fourth of July)

Wortendyke also concerns herself with violence in her artwork, assembling fragmented images of violence from war zones. On the homefront, “Killing Season,” records the fragmented nature of Chicago’s war (here’s a map of one week’s carnage) in disjointed narratives of singular deaths. A kind of typical Chicago killing narrative, to the extent that the death of any individual can ever be called typical, does emerge. It looks something like this:

Walter Lampeley, 28 years old

Lampeley was shot and killed at his home in the 2400 block of West Taylor Street in the West Side Lawndale neighborhood early this morning. At about 11:54 a.m., he was fighting another person when a vehicle pulled up, suspects exited, and shots were fired at him. Lampeley suffered a gunshot wound to his neck and was pronounced dead at 12:56 a.m. at Mount Sinai.

Drive-by shootings rarely result in arrests, police say, because of a code of silence in Chicago’s subaltern communities. Long before police can make an arrest, there are often retaliatory strikes. “Today’s victims are tomorrow’s offenders,” Chicago Police Superintendent Jodi Weiss has said many times, usually during a press conference at a murder scene.

Wortendyke’s record captures what has become the city’s shame, the slaughter of its juveniles:

Jeremy Baggett, 15 years old
Baggett and a friend were on the 4200 block of West Thomas Avenue in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood about 9:30 p.m. when someone across the street began firing at them. Baggett was fatally shot while trying to flee on his bicycle. He was pronounced dead at 12:25 a.m. today. The companion told police that Baggett began riding away on his bike and then collapsed a short distance away. Police officers found Baggett on the sidewalk near Piccolo Middle School with a neck wound. He was a sophomore at Orr Academy High School.

A True tip of the Slanty cap to Laura M. Browning for alerting us to “Killing Season.”

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