The name Chiraq just kind of popped out of thin air. No one staked claim to it. Based on statistics as it relates to the deaths of soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it made sense. Chicago, which is compared to Iraq in the popular moniker, has always been riddled with violence. “Chiraq” is not some new phase that is happening because of the youth. It is in the nature of the city; it is in the nature of many cities across America.
When I first heard the term Chiraq, I didn’t like it. I knew what it meant to the city as a whole and what it means to the inner-city more specifically. The term promotes visuals of war, flying bullets, fire, fear and destruction. I was one of the individuals speaking against this moniker because I didn’t want people thinking those types of thoughts about my beloved city. Fast-forward and Chief Keef becomes the newest rap music sensation promoting a new genre of rap music called Drill. Drill comes off as a dark and eerie form of production with tales of murder, drug use and oddly enough celebration (“turnin’ up”). So, the marriage between the terms Chiraq and Drill seems natural, especially with rates of murders and shootings escalating everyday in Chicago. It truly is a war zone, not in the sense that you would say people are fighting for some political end, more in the sense that disenfranchised people and misguided and impoverished youth are at war with who they are with regards to their identity. They don’t know who they are at the core, so the thought of taking the life of someone else seems trivial and almost acceptable until it hits home.
Recently, Chicago’s violence has been especially polarizing. Tyshawn Lee, 9, was lured into an alley on his way to his grandmother’s house and killed. He was shot multiple times in the back and the head. Rumors are circulating that this is the result of something his father did. Tyshawn suffered the consequences. The same day, Kaylyn Pryor an aspiring model was shot and killed near the same neighborhood where Tyshawn was killed. The very next day, Spike Lee dropped the trailer of his newest film, Chi-raq. The internet caught fire. Many thought Spike was making light of the situation in Chicago. Spike has since made a public statement saying that this film is not making light of the current situation in Chicago. He also released an alternative, more serious trailer.
I had to ask myself a few questions after witnessing all of the uproar directed toward Spike and the lack of action with regards to Tyshawn and Kaylyn. When is it time for us to take responsibility? When is it time for us to remove any thoughts of fear and reclaim our neighborhoods? When do we start exercising economic empowerment? These are real questions and really it’s up to us to make a move. The Black community can no longer point the finger at scapegoats and wait for saviors. It is up to us.
They call the neighborhood I grew up in “The Wild Hundreds.” There is another neighborhood called “Terror Town” and another called “Murder Town.” The list can go on. The point I’m making here is that no “name” is going to make us who we are. We make this choice as to who we are and how we are viewed.
I live in Chicago, affectionately known as Chi-town. Some people know it as Chiraq, because between the years of 2003-2012, 4,265 citizens were killed in Chicago, almost identical to the number of American soldiers who were lost at war during that time. We are at war in Chicago right now. It is a war of social standing, economics and equality. Spike Lee created a movie to shine a light on this battle zone. This battle zone exists, he did not create it, but we can fix it.