As of last weekend, Chicago has reached 400 homicides for the year. The shooting death of Jose Escobar on Sunday pushed the city into a statistical territory it has not reached this quickly in almost ten years. Compared to 2011, records show that the murder rate is up 25 percent at this point, in part due to a spike in homicides during the first 3 months of the year and the comparatively mild weather. While the police department has repeatedly stated that crime is down in every other major category—sexual assault, robbery, theft, and other violent crimes—the surge in gang violence over the last 6 months has pushed many community leaders and social organizations to try to step in and foment change.

On Sunday, Bishop Larry Trotter of Sweet Holy Spirit Church took to the streets with over 200 people on a prayer march to stop the violence. With gangs throughout the city fragmenting into hundreds of splinter groups over the last few years, much of the violence has erupted between smaller and smaller claims of territory with less organization and, inevitably, higher rates of deadly crossfire. Bishop Trotter told the AP, “The city has gone wild. It’s no longer just gang killing, it’s random killing. We have to try and channel that energy and put it in another direction.” A similar desire to transform these energies has been a goal of the Now Is The Time, a citywide initiative focused on inspiring young Chicagoans to make positive change in their communities and stop youth violence. And as we noted last Thursday, we’ve teamed up with Project on Civic Reflection to release our own community toolkit aimed in part to addressing gang violence in many at-risk neighborhoods.

We have been reflecting a lot in the last few months on the theme of “Freedom and Liberation,” which has a direct and dire connection to gang violence’s affect on the freedoms we have in our communities and within our families. But there is also a dimension that runs parallel to our new theme, “Body Wisdom.” Every time one of this city’s sisters or brothers, children or grandchildren, friends or acquaintances are struck down by gang violence, is it not a kind of terror to our own bodies? Or the larger bodies of our communities? Every weekend, dozens of our fellow Chicagoans living all over the city are struck by stray fire, reminding us of our own vulnerability to the seemingly random violence. But then something happens: a city pastor organizes a peace march, filling the streets with hundreds of bodies in protest of the bloodshed, and we are reminded of the kind of “Body Wisdom” that our communities have.

Today on the front porch, we’re going to read a piece that theorizes streets without those marching bodies of peaceful protest. “An Invisible Line,” the Winter 2007 issue of the Journal of Ordinary Thoughts, asked NWA writers to reflect on the borders and boundaries that make up our social, political, and economic realities. Debra Johnson’s poem, “War & Peace,” turns the question inside-out: “Don’t you see / The empty streets?” In the opening lines, we’re struck with a vacant image—an agoraphobic city, the people’s energy for change having vacated the premise, making each family’s home “void of the vitality that could make it great.” But the speaker will not give up, demanding that we get out of the house and fill those empty streets with the bodies of protest. It’s a piece for times like now, when the bishop’s march shows that we will no longer be victims, and that we are the heart, soul, and shield of our communities’ body.

        WAR & PEACE
        Debra Johnson

        What’s wrong with you?
        Don’t you see
        The empty streets?

        Where are all the central characters
        Who are supposed to dominate the scene?
        Throw down strong love; rise up individuals;
        Deny the mediocre; uphold the peace.

        A war is in the house,
        The beige, framed two-flat with the worn-out steps,
        Broken banister, and all that once was vibrant.
        Now it’s lean, like filtered hamburger meat
        Reduced fat and all that.
        The substance of purpose and life
        Has oozed out the cracks.

        The war is in the house
        Locked up, messed up, in the grave.
        Families robbed while wide-awake.
        This house, that house, the one across State Street
        Is void of the vitality that could make it great.

        Didn’t you see it coming?
        Dare you tell that lie?
        Someone stopped caring.
        No more strategic maneuvering, politicians, and community leaders brainstorming,
        Developing plans together, promoting human rights and moral obligation,
        Their mouths wide open with silent rally cries.
        Where did they all go? Who had to die?

        The war is in the house
        For equality and safe neighborhoods,
        Drug-free, spit-free, hunger-free, substance-abuse-free.
        Kids-home-alone-free, young-boys-making-babies-free, teenage-pregnancy-free, pimp-free,
        Mom-on-crack-free, daddy-heroin-free, uncle-molestation-free, economic-exploitation free…

        Families need peace
        But how does that materialize?
        Peace appears to be elusive
        Amid the rage that is as thick as London fog
        It erodes the best intentions

        Have all become reclusive,
        Conditioned, and depressed?
        Or do we demand a political and socioeconomic redress?
        Check your watch; replace the battery in your clock.
        What’s wrong with you?
        Don’t you see
        The empty streets?