Filmmaker Spike Lee is working on a film set in Chicago tentatively titled “Chiraq.”

John W. Fountain: Chiraq. It is a name that bleeds

SHARE John W. Fountain: Chiraq. It is a name that bleeds
SHARE John W. Fountain: Chiraq. It is a name that bleeds

Chi-raq? Or Chi-attack?

Chi-kill? Or Chi-micide?

Chi-ghanistan? Or Chi-bosnia?

What should “we” call this place, where death too often tolls prematurely for the young, where our children here too often perish in the street by the gun?

On the other side of the tracks, some here call it Chiraq.


From Englewood to North Lawndale. From Garfield to Humboldt Park, to Pilsen and Little Village, to Roseland and the West Side’s Austin, they know Chiraq — one part Chicago, one part Iraq. A name birthed in cold dead facts.

In Chiraq, bullets fly. Children die. Mothers cry.

Too many lives marred by an invisible epitaph: “Born in Chicago. Murdered in Chiraq.”

And yet, some here these days seem more worried about bad PR than the incessant flow of our gunshot wounded sons and daughters to the hospital ER. More upset about what Spike Lee has titled his new film that he is shooting in Chicago this summer. More indignant about the unwanted name than our murderous shame.

“Shhh,” some say. Don’t call my city by that name. It embodies too much hell. Too much pain.

Chiraq. It hurts. It is a name that bleeds. That stirs uncomfortable, disconcerting reflection. That sprang from the seed of death and destruction.

No matter who tells the decades-long, real-life tale of my beloved hometown — Spike Lee, or me — it would be riddled with the sound of gunfire, told in the blood and tears of those shot, maimed or murdered here. By the faces and voices of those who have tasted Chi-fear.

I was born in Chicago. But I have walked the streets of Chiraq.

It is not every neighborhood, or every block. Chiraq exists beyond the Magnificent Mile, beyond the North Shore and the Gold Coast, beyond peaceful, neighborhood meadows. Chiraq lies within the city’s “insignificant” isles. Within the “Cold Coast” and hyper-segregated neighborhoods outside the perimeter of Chicago’s glistening skyline beauty and tourist fare.

Two worlds. A tale of two cities: One ugly. One pretty.

Shots fired! The children of Chiraq know the routine: Get down on the floor or take cover in the bathtub. Lie still, even amid screams. Wait until the shooting stops or the young hooded gunmen flee.

“Bullets don’t have no eyes or names,” mothers warn. They whisper a prayer when they send their children out the door, into Chiraqi streets. When their children return safely home, they breathe a sigh of relief.

In Chiraq, children can’t play in their front yard without fear of sudden and random attack. Little boys are known to have been slain while making mud pies and little girls while selling candy or jumping rope. Here regard for human life is cast aside — at least too often seems in short supply.

Here you hear the latest shots fired, then wait on edge for the victim’s name, dreading all the while, knowing that no one’s safe. That murder can quickly become anyone’s fate.

And yet, here you also learn to live through fear — even as murder blows steady like the wind. Even as the hearse’s wheels roll again and again and again.

Here there seem only a few voices crying steadily in the wilderness of these mean streets. Among the fiercest and most admirable: the leader of a mostly black church congregation who happens to be a white Catholic priest. And yet, the story of murder hasn’t yet ceased.

. . . And now Spike Lee plans to tell the whole world about that. It’s a public relations nightmare, even if this tale is based on cold dead facts.

Except isn’t the real nightmare to live and die in Chiraq?

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com

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