Chicago Sun-Times

When two ci­ties bleed into one

- NATALIE Y. MOORE @na­tal­iey­moore Natalie Moore is a re­porter for WBEZ. org. Gibsons · Chicago Police Department · Englewood · Printer's Row, Chicago, IL

My fa­ther, sis­ter and I en­joyed a sunny week­day meal at Gib­sons Bar and Steak­house this sum­mer. We lunched on oys­ters and filet mignon out­side at a table in the street, not on the side­walk.

This cor­ner of North Rush Street now al­lows pa­trons at sev­eral restau­rants to dine where cars nor­mally would pull up to a valet. All sorts of cre­ative ex­per­i­ments are be­ing at­tempted to blunt fi­nan­cial wreck­age on the restau­rant in­dus­try in our new COVID-19 way of life.

As we ate at one of our fa­vorite steak­houses, a cher­ished fam­ily tra­di­tion, we no­ticed a heavy po­lice pres­ence in the area. Twice in re­cent days, loot­ers had hit lux­ury stores on and off the Mag­nif­i­cent Mile, and many re­tail­ers had re­sponded by putting up ply­wood. It’s been a hot sum­mer; the coronaviru­s and racial un­rest have con­verged and ex­ploded all over the city and the na­tion.

A cou­ple of Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers whizzed by on their bikes and some cus­tomers at Gib­sons, as well as those at sur­round­ing eater­ies, ap­plauded. The of­fi­cers hadn’t done any­thing in that mo­ment that was heroic or ex­tra­or­di­nary. They rode bikes.

My fam­ily did not clap. We did not jeer. We sat there and ate. The peo­ple who clapped were white. The Moores were the only Black folks in sight. A pic­ture of seg­re­ga­tion as clear as it was cliché.

In­vis­i­ble bor­ders abound in Chicago, mold­ing our per­cep­tions of neigh­bor­hoods and the peo­ple who live there. The ap­plause was a show of grat­i­tude, de­lin­eat­ing a line be­tween Black Lives Mat­ter and Blue Lives Mat­ter.

Gib­sons is within Chicago’s 60611 ZIP code, an area that is largely white and wealthy. It has ex­pe­ri­enced the low­est death rates of COVID-19. Unemployme­nt is low. Ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment is high. Seg­re­ga­tion al­lows the denizens of 60611 to live in a bub­ble of op­u­lence, and within walk­ing distance of Gucci and Her­mes, two stores looted in Au­gust af­ter a po­lice of­fi­cer shot a man in En­gle­wood.

Polic­ing is very dif­fer­ent in these two com­mu­ni­ties. The Gib­sons din­ers felt the pa­trolling po­lice meant pro­tec­tion for them and the frilly stores. On the South Side, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween com­mu­nity and po­lice is more fraught, at best.

The year 2020 is ex­pos­ing all sorts of fault lines around racism, in­equity and cap­i­tal­ism. Peo­ple who are more livid about prop­erty dam­age than Black lives prob­a­bly didn’t re­ally care about racial jus­tice in the first place.

Chicago is of­ten de­scribed as a tale of two ci­ties. Liv­ing in a ZIP code like 60611 means the vi­o­lence, a symp­tom of dis­in­vest­ment on the South and West Sides, is not an in­ti­mate prob­lem. It’s what you see on tele­vi­sion and hear about ca­su­ally. The tale of two ci­ties is phys­i­cally and men­tally spa­cious, as wide as if board­ing an air­plane to visit an­other city.

If your life isn’t be­ing in­ter­rupted by long-term sys­temic prob­lems of race and eco­nomic in­equity, you can eas­ily or­der a rare steak at Gib­sons, sip a mar­tini and be con­tent. Seg­re­ga­tion al­lows and re­wards.

But the bub­ble had to burst. It had to ooze all over the gilded streets. These are all of Chicago’s prob­lems, no mat­ter how long they have been con­tained in parts of the city that are Black and Brown and seen as ex­pend­able.

Some Chicagoans and busi­ness elites chat­ter about how the Loop is in trou­ble. Will af­flu­ent res­i­dents flee? What will hap­pen to all that of­fice space made empty by COVID-19? Will tourists re­turn? Will the loot­ing of those two sum­mer week­ends keep them away?

Chicago’s down­town is, of course, im­por­tant cul­tur­ally and fi­nan­cially. But com­mu­nal care shouldn’t be re­stricted to Chicago’s front yard. Our tag line is that we’re a “city of neigh­bor­hoods.”

I keep hear­ing that Chicago won’t be a global city if its down­town crum­bles. But I’ve been say­ing for years that seg­re­ga­tion is the real great­est threat to Chicago’s global city sta­tus.

If we have learned any­thing in 2020, it is that Chicago’s down­town does not ex­ist in a bub­ble, much as some folks might wish it did. We can no longer pre­tend. The re­al­ity of life across our whole city, the good and the bad, will find its way there.

Chicago’s two ci­ties will al­ways bleed, some­times quite lit­er­ally, into one.

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