Road rage, guns turn Chicago’s streets into shooting galleries

After a week away from Chicago, the shooting of 21-month-old Kayden Swann has left me astounded that we all don’t have PTSD.

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Kayden Swann was severely wounded when he was struck in the temple by a bullet fired during a road-rage incident on April 6 on Lake Shore Drive.

Kayden Swann, the 21-month-old boy shot during a road-rage incident on Lake Shore Drive, remained in “very critical” condition Friday.

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I returned from an out-of-town trip, and on the ride home from Midway Airport, I could feel the pulse of the city.

Cars sped past, engines roaring, as they weaved in and out of lanes, oblivious to speed limits.

On the unseasonably warm night, with the passenger-side window slightly rolled down to catch some fresh air, the noise felt like an assault.

I closed my eyes and prayed: “Oh, God, please let us make it home in one piece.”

This is what it has come to.

We could blame guns for what happened to Kayden Swann, the 21-month-old boy who was tucked safely in his car seat when he was struck in the head by a bullet fired by a driver in the throes of road rage on Lake Shore Drive.

We could blame the angry adults who chose to settle a dispute over lane-merging with a gun for the ordeal the baby boy and his family are now going through. Though doctors at Lurie Children’s Hospital said Saturday he was out of a coma and continuing “to demonstrate positive improvements,” he remained on a ventilator in critical condition.

And we could blame law enforcement for not having a squad car hiding somewhere between the testy merge and the Shedd Aquarium where the shots were fired.

But blame doesn’t stop the violence.

On Thursday, a driver shot an Oak Park police officer during a traffic stop on Harlem Avenue over the Eisenhower Expressway. Both the suspect and the police officer were seriously wounded.

And while the city was reeling from Tuesday’s shooting on Lake Shore Drive, Thursday morning somebody else shot at but didn’t hit three drivers on Lake Shore Drive near Bronzeville and on Halsted Street in University Village.

Traveling east on I-55 on my way home from the airport, I caught sight of the lighted heart on the skyline and marveled at our ability to project hope in such dire circumstances.

After all, Chicago is fighting two pandemics.

But while the pharmaceutical companies came up with a vaccine to fight the coronavirus in record-setting time, civic leaders still haven’t figured out how to eradicate the violence that is strangling the life out of our city.

I reached out to Ja’Mal Green, a community activist, former mayoral candidate and entrepreneur, to get his thoughts on: What now? Green and others in his generation have long pointed to the need for businesses to invest in communities plagued by violence.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Green said. “The problem is we have to be empowered by leadership to do that work. We can start coming together to invest in our community with the little that we have.”

Green said his nonprofit organization Majostee Allstars is transforming a former school building into an 80,000-square-foot community center to provide a safe haven for youth.

“We have been off-track and off-track for too many years,” he said. “We have to start implementing these things now. And our leaders — from the mayor to the county board president to the governor — have to make this a priority.

“There is no overnight solution. But there is a short time frame to reduce the violence.

“Just like we worked on COVID-19 every day and found the money that we needed to make things happen, we need to do the same thing for violence. Since we have invested neither time nor money, violence has just spiraled out of control.”

Green has pledged $5,000 of his own money for information leading to the prosecution of whoever’s responsible for the road-rage shooting in which Kayden was shot.

It is on each of us to take our own stand.

Because on a beautiful day in Chicago a madman on idyllic Lake Shore Drive shot a baby boy in the head.

Chicago can’t let that be the end of his story.

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