CHICAGO — Through a segment entitled "Chicago Without Hope," Australian television viewers this week got a glimpse of Chicago's violence, with a perplexed host describing the situation as "urban warfare out of control."
"Imagine living in a place where every three hours someone is shot, and every 14 hours someone is murdered. And I'm not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan but Chicago, one of the biggest and most sophisticated cities in the world," says Liz Hayes, a reporter for the Australian "60 Minutes."
Hayes and crew can be seen filming on the city's South and West Sides, interviewing black residents and shooting victims in the Grand Crossing and Austin neighborhoods. Those interviews — as well as a stark recitation of the city's murder and shooting statistics and an underlay of rap, jazz and moody classical music — presents a dire picture of the Chicago.
A rapper named CTC Duwop tells Hayes that there can "be a shootout in Chicago over the smallest stuff: chips, dice games, just the smallest stuff..."
Hayes interrupts him, "Did you say chips?"
Responds the young man, "Yea, potato chips."
In another scene, a gunshot victim shows her his scarred stomach as she tries to pin him down on whether he sought revenge on the shooter.
The show, which aired Sunday and typically draws more than 1 million viewers, traces the Great Migration of blacks from the south from 1910 through 1970 and how when manufacturing jobs disappeared "those families never recovered." Hayes describes a cycle of poverty, drugs and violence — "and guns: just about everyone has one, including kids."
Former Chicago police union boss Dean Angelo says demoralized officers are looking to leave the city: "We have wives telling their husbands and husbands telling their wives, 'I wanna get out of Dodge.'"
Funeral director Spencer Leak Sr. shows Hayes his selection of coffins and tells the Australian journalist how young people "are coming in, or they are telling their parents, 'This is the type of casket I want.'"
Meanwhile, the black community "has become a community of bystanders," says Leak, of Leak & Sons Funeral Homes, 7838 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
"They sit on the sidelines and they watch it happen and they thank God at the end of the day that it didn't happen to them," Leak says, explaining how many are paralyzed by a fear of gangs and feel intimidated by police.
Plus, he adds, "We have people walking the streets with access to guns who are mentally deranged."
"When you add to that mix drugs and alcohol, then you have a dangerous weapon in our areas that must be dealt with," he says.
Racism is part of the equation, too, Leak maintains.
"If the young people who are destroying themselves in Chicago were white, you would have Congressional committees coming here, presidential committees. You would have people coming from all over the world coming here to try to determine what kind of rage would cause these white teenagers to kill other white teenagers," he said.
"That is not the case. Because it is restricted to the black community, it is allowed to take place," he says.
On the Australian "60 Minutes" site, Hayes reflects on her assignment to Chicago: “I can’t believe there’s a place in America, one of the most beautiful cities in America, where more people die there than Afghanistan and Iraq."
She adds, "I think this is a lesson to all in Australia."
"If we had guns, a culture like that — that could be us. Just look at how easily it could get out of control,” Hayes said.