In June, a man stabbed 25-year-old Jessica Hampton to death on the CTA Red Line. The man accused of murdering her is someone she dated. They fought on a train car. He lunged toward her and stabbed her in the neck and upper body. As she fell to the ground, the man kept stabbing her and began slicing her throat.
Passengers watched Hampton’s final fatal moments. She cried for help. No one intervened. But onlookers did videotape the grisly attack with their cell phones. It’s on YouTube and circulated widely on social media. I can’t bear to watch it.
For Scheherazade Tillet, executive director of A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based nonprofit that uses art to mobilize young people to end violence against girls and women, Hampton’s death reminded her of how we think about community violence in this city.
“We only see it as about gangs and guns and we don’t see the intersections of how women and girls are a part of that community violence and are connected to gun violence and gang violence,” Tillet said.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month and ALWH is hosting a march to protest the violence against African-American girls and young women. Marchers will begin in North Lawndale — ALWH’s service area — on Oct. 22 and board the Green Line L train holding signs that read “Say Her Name” and “You Are Beautiful.” They will sing, recite poetry and pass out anti-violence literature. They will end at the 47th Street Red Line, the site of Hampton’s death.
Riding the L is appropriate symbolism. There’s also a whole range of harassment that women — cis and trans — experience from unwanted attention on the CTA to grabbing on the street to tragedy like Hampton’s murder. I once had a man lurk and follow me on the Green Line platform downtown. He stared at me the entire ride to 47th Street on the packed train. I debated whether to get off early, whip out my cell phone to call someone or just sit there. Time kept passing and I didn’t know what to do. When I prepared to exit, in a lewd tone, he smirked, “I could just eat you up.”
I felt disgusted and unsafe. I’m forever grateful that he did not follow me off the train.
I first met Scheherazade and her sister Salamishah Tillet on the West Side years ago while covering ALWH and its use of the arts for violence prevention. Since then, I’ve volunteered with their high school girls on writing exercises. These young ladies are smart and routinely witness sexual violence or assault that’s ignored in their communities. They speak up and teach their friends.
“Girls my age have physical, mental and emotional abuse,” said 17-year-old Asia Willis. She said a lot of her peers don’t recognize that they’re experiencing violence.
Trinity Allen, 16, remembers feeling hurt and filled with anger about Hampton’s death.
“My mom is a victim of domestic violence and I would be considered a secondary survivor. She told me about it. I never witnessed it,” Allen said. “For victims like Jessica, it’s important we do this march to reclaim this [public] space with positive energy.
Allen said forms of domestic violence and sexual assault are often like the new normal, and people don’t take the trauma seriously. The march was planned long before Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump dismissed the leaked tape of him bragging about groping and trying to have sex with women as benign locker room chatter. It was actually language about sexual assault. But there seems to be wiggle room for folk who think sexually predatory behavior is limited to strangers attacking women in dark alleys. More often it’s from the people smiling in our faces.
Natalie Y. Moore is a reporter for WBEZ and author of “The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.”
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