Losing Tyshon Johnson and other kids to violence robs us all

Chicago’s sordid history has taken away our boys’ and girls’ abilities to be kids. It has robbed our city of its potential.

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Tyshon Johnson, 18, was fatally shot Aug. 13 in Washington Park. He was about to begin his senior year at Englewood STEM High School.

Tyshon Johnson, 18, was fatally shot Aug. 13 in Washington Park. He was about to begin his senior year at Englewood STEM High School.

National Gun Violence Memorial

One recent Sunday night, a mere two blocks from the University of Chicago Trauma Center, four people were shot in Washington Park. Tyshon Johnson, one of four victims, was killed. One news headline read in part: “18-Year-Old Man Among 4 People Killed in Shootings Across Chicago.” We both ceased reading immediately. We are both Black physicians and surgeons at the University of Chicago.

An “18-year-old man?” At 18, we were both dependents. Our parents were providing the roof over our heads and most of the clothes on our backs. At 18, one of us became our high school’s homecoming king. We didn’t know quite yet what we wanted to do with our lives, but we were 18, just teenagers. Neither of us were men, but we were on our way.

Tyshon was a teenager, a matriculating senior in high school. Firearm-related incidents with a “gang-affiliated” context tend to rationalize why youth are killed in the streets. Headlines such as this make boys into men and seem to justify their murder as a fate they deserved. In our society, Black men are called boys, and Black boys are called men.

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We can acknowledge that many of the young boys that come through our trauma center become men prematurely, not because a media headline arbitrarily assigns them as such, but due to the environments that they are subjugated to.

The communities they survive in are stricken with poverty, unemployment, vacant housing and food deserts. People are forced to choose risky behavior to meet their basic needs. But these communities were not created by individual choices. Instead, they are the result of decades of forced segregation due to discriminatory housing practices, destruction of minority-owned property and businesses, and racism.

We as a city complain about the violence. Yet we watch human potential snatched away daily and fail to right the wrongs of our city’s and institutions’ racist history. Racism has created communities where children and teens are slaughtered. When will we decide to reverse the hatred and evil that created these environments? When will we return self-determination to the descendants of people whose businesses were destroyed, and family members were incarcerated, beaten and killed to maintain the social hierarchy?

The appointment of new Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling by Mayor Brandon Johnson provides a glimmer of hope. Snelling speaks about building community trust and supporting the violence intervention ecosystem. Actions must follow those words.

But to have a generational impact, many more interventions are needed: investing in quality education and affordable housing; reversing years of loan discrimination in communities of color; and developing economic opportunity. Corporations that relocate to Chicago must be persuaded to establish a presence in disinvested neighborhoods to increase job opportunities and economic growth. Most of these interventions are mentioned in Johnson’s blueprint.

But it’s not only the responsibility of the mayor and superintendent to make Chicago safer. It is ours as well. This is not a “them” problem. This is an “us” problem. All of us — North, South, and West sides — should lobby our alderpeople and city officials to support policies for a more just and equitable future.

Institutions and corporations must recognize that gun violence is an existential threat to our beloved city’s viability and vitality. Instead of fleeing or building fortresses, let’s invest in creating and supporting pipeline employment and education in vulnerable communities. Lives are being lost.

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Chicago’s sordid history has taken away our boys’ and girls’ abilities to be kids. It has robbed our city of its potential. Now, more than ever is the time to be intentional about helping the children and teens who are dying. But first and foremost, we need to see them as they are: kids, with all the potential in the world.

Let us be clear. That Sunday, Chicago did not lose a man. Chicago lost a teenager, Tyshon.

We did not know him personally, but we are certain he had dreams and treasured the love of his mother. He deserved to live and thrive, as all our city’s children and adolescents do.

Dr. Anthony D. Douglas II is a general surgery resident physician at the University of Chicago who studies socioeconomic and historical factors that impact trauma in urban communities. Dr. Selwyn O. Rogers Jr., who has a master’s in public health and is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, is the section chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at University of Chicago Medicine.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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