Imagine that she is your daughter. Imagine one decision that leads her down the path of addiction and into the vice-filled shadows of unforgiving Chicago streets. Imagine your worry and prayers over sleepless nights that dissolve into tear-laden mornings.
Imagine that helpless sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as the innocent, beautiful baby girl you brought home years earlier from the hospital and doted over, whispering sweet nothings, is now in danger of being consumed by the evils of life and the city’s mean streets. Imagine hoping, wishing, praying she would only return to herself, pull through, be all right. Imagine waiting to hear a word — something, anything…
Then comes the news: a phone call, a police knock. Bad news.
Now imagine her dead. Murdered. Gone.
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She lies half naked and brutalized in an alley, abandoned building or vacant lot. She has been violated, strangled and bludgeoned, or her body set ablaze or dismembered, her killer having discarded her like garbage.
Imagine her final moments, gasping for breath, for life. The terror in her teary eyes. Her unanswered cries.
Imagine her, trying to scream. Except, with her breathing repressed by her killer, she can manage only strained whimpers until finally her light, despite her desperate struggle, has been extinguished.
Imagine she is your daughter. Your sister. Your aunt. Your mother. Your niece, cousin, friend.
Imagine that her one bad decision was simply choosing to go out that night, or to be in the company of a man who would turn out to be a killer. Imagine that she never used illicit drugs, would never knowingly place herself in harm’s way, and had tried to escape once the killer’s cruel intentions became clear. But by then it was too late.
Now imagine one murdered woman in Chicago multiplied by at least 51 since 2001. Imagine that their cases remain largely unsolved, their families clinging to the faintest hope for justice, which seems an elusive mist. Imagine these mostly African-American women — believed by the Murder Accountability Project in Alexandria, Virginia, to be the work of at least one serial killer — forgotten.
Imagine a city, a nation, that when it comes to Black women, accepts their murder and brutalization with numbing normalcy. A city where excuse making by politicians, and spin and deflection, are the typical response to questions about why police have yet to find answers.
A city where one local news station reneges on its invitation to discuss the Unforgotten 51 project — that I undertook last year with my students at Roosevelt University — because, on second thought, the story is “too grim for morning TV.”
Imagine a city where some news media might be inclined to pat themselves on the back for having done one or two or even three stories about the case with the sensational lead of the existence of a possible serial killer.
Except the real story here isn’t about a serial killer.
It is about the incalculable loss of humanity. A story of love, joy and pain, and of a sister’s fading hope for justice.
That is a story worthy of being told until the cows come home by news media that purport to stand as gatekeepers, as truth-tellers, who comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Who shine the light of journalism on injustice, inequality and inhumanity.
Imagine news media that will hold police officials’ feet to the fire to be transparent with victim’s families and the public about their investigative efforts. An unrelenting news media that will not allow this city to forget the 51, ever.
For the truth is: Each of them was one of ours — a slain Chicago daughter.
No need to imagine.
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