John Fountain: City numb to crime shivers over death of child

SHARE John Fountain: City numb to crime shivers over death of child

The murky waters slowly recede amid the steady hum and rumble of machinery on a moonless, late summer’s night and the search for the rest of Baby Doe.

I shudder as I write these words: the rest of Baby Doe.

The rickety steel bump and clanking of a passing Green Line elevated train rises. Police sirens wail in the distance.

And yet, even amid this cacophony of nocturnal urban sound, there is an unsettling silence here that resounds so much more loudly. It has, in one sense, beckoned me here.


And yet, I am not completely certain, even as a writer, why I have come, what I am searching for, hoping to find, to feel.

Gone are the cameras and the crowd who attended a prayer vigil in the evening. Still remaining are police and city workers, manning the machines and draining a section of the lagoon at Garfield Park on the West Side. Three balloons flutter beneath a green tree a few feet from the shore.

Still lingering, like the pungent stench of death decaying, are questions surrounding the demise of the unidentified child whose dismembered body was partially discovered here.

Feet, hands, head.

The details, in grisly fact, I knew before I arrived. So why have I come here?

I am not certain, though I felt compelled. This is not an unfamiliar place.

I used to play here. I attended high school just down the street, trudged through Garfield Park for countless miles as a teenager, running cross-country. One of my favorite and most majestic places in all of Chicago, the Garfield Park Conservatory, is two blocks away.

I know these streets, the Golden Dome. I love this neighborhood and the people here. And I feel an eternal kinship, though life and my career, and my own choices, over the years have carried me many miles away.

I also know that in a city where homicide and violence can be counted on like the sunrise, there is still something about the brutal slaying of a child, something about the death of innocence, blowing here like an unsettling wind.

I have come to know that the gruesome details of some cases can make them seem so unconscionable as to transcend that which we once thought to be even beyond man’s most depraved inhumanity to man.

I know that some cases can spark a rallying cry for a community, for a city. Even a city that is home to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; to the human atrocities of John Wayne Gacy and Richard Speck; to urban drug and gang wars; and to decades of gunfire that have left our sons and daughters, by the thousands, lying in their own blood — and sometimes guts — dead in these cold streets.

And yet, I wonder: Why does it take even one more evil? Isn’t all human life precious, priceless?

Why isn’t every unlawful, unjustifiable killing enough to make us all stand united in determination to end this scourge and ensure that justice prevails?

What about the 54 wounded in Chicago over Labor Day weekend, eight of them fatally? What about the 63 wounded, over the July 4 weekend, 10 of them fatally? Or the 330 police said have been killed this year through Sept. 10?

Why isn’t any one of these cases enough to rattle our collective conscience enough to command our full and undivided attention as one city, connected by our humanity and our commitment to protect all, even the least of these?

Staring out at the receding murky lagoon, I find no answers, only questions. And I hurt for Baby Doe.


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