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'Ghettoside' Friar Compares Chicago Murders To L.A.: 'A Disregard For Life'

By Justin Breen | November 11, 2016 5:01am
 Brother Jim Reiter, a Chicago native (far left and inset) discussed violence in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Brother Jim Reiter, a Chicago native (far left and inset) discussed violence in Chicago and Los Angeles.
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CHICAGO — Brother Jim Reiter wishes people had more respect for one another.

"It almost sounds trivial, but I don't know how you change people's ways of working on being more respectful of others," Reiter said.

Reiter is a member of the Franciscan Order and a Chicago native who grew up in Belmont Cragin and lived in Norwood Park. He also recently spent two years as director of a House of Studies for Friars near Loyola University, his alma mater.

Most of his time since 1977, though, has been in California, including several years in Los Angeles, where he was a chaplain for the city's police department. In that position, he saw the trauma of countless shootings, the after-effects on blood-covered city streets and devastated families inside hospitals.

His experiences were detailed in "Ghettoside" — a 2015 book from Jill Leovy — that focused on the murders of black men in South Los Angeles and why they were happening. Reiter at the time was a high school counselor for Bryant Tennelle, the son of a police detective who was murdered.

Tennelle's slaying is a key part of the book, which briefly discusses Reiter's Chicago roots and his connections to Tennelle, who was killed a week after receiving a high school diploma.

How Tennelle was killed, Reiter said, mirrors many murders in Chicago.

"With Bryant, he was killed by a gang wannabe trying to prove himself," Reiter said. "There was no feeling or any kind of remorse — he just gunned down a total stranger. It was a total disregard for someone's life. That seems pretty systemic of the accounts you read in the paper: drive-by shootings, particularly, where people are not the intended victims."

While Reiter lived on the North Side, the first question from new arriving Friars was whether the streets of Chicago were safe. He said yes, for the most part, although he said there were several shootings near the House of Studies, which also is a residence for Friars.

Reiter, who left Chicago for northern California in June, said he's followed this city's shooting count all year. He's been dismayed by the 3,500-plus shootings and nearly 700 homicides in 2016.

"It's sad that we get upset about certain things but not consistently across the board, that all lives don't matter," he said. "It's so common that people become immune to it, which is unfortunate. It's not a good attitude to have, but part of it is the helplessness."

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