That’s the subject of my first essay for Life of the Law, a radio and multimedia project started up by a few awesome public radio folks. I’m absolutely thrilled to contribute because I admire the producers’ work and the concept for this project.

I spend at least half my waking life thinking about Chicago’s laws and and policies and the way they affect people. Not just the people they govern–but also the people doing the governing. Let me say this: we could all benefit from better laws.

Traditional law and order, as effective as it can be, also dehumanizes. It takes a deeply human event like person harming another, and runs it through a bureaucratic mill. In all the due process, sometimes we forget that the parties involved are people. With stories. This first piece is about how storytelling–and theatre, in particular–takes a different tack on stopping the violence.

Here’s an excerpt:

There is a kind of violence burnout in Chicago–apathy ensuing from near-constant news of shootings. Consider this excerpt from a typical crime blotter story, “Uptown Shooting Leaves Reputed Gang Member Wounded”:

“A reputed gang member was shot three times Thursday evening by an unidentified gunman who allegedly chased him down Wilson Avenue before fleeing in a white sedan, police said. The 24-year-old victim, identified by officers and neighbors as an area gang member, ran into a liquor store in the 1200 block of West Wilson Avenue.”

A young man is shot three times, and we learn little more than that he is a gang member. At worst, the article elicits fear. At best, it stirs pity. Neither state of being spurs action.

To overcome the apathy, the production enlisted Steppenwolf’s young adults program and partnered with the Chicago Public Library as part of a broader anti-violence initiative called “Now Is the Time.”  The play’s writer, DePaul Professor Miles Harvey, assembled hundreds of interviews with Chicagoans affected by the violence, conducted by himself and his students. The effort was modeled after the Laramie Project, a docu-theater production that used hundreds of community to process the horrific, hate crime murder of Matthew Shephard. How Long Will I Cry? Director Edward Torres aimed this approach at “making sure the stories being told are honest and direct and hopefully will affect people—get people to really listen.”

Those who do listen will hear young people in pain. Remembering play, I can’t remember who was in a gang and who was not. Which is funny,  since the newspaper makes that distinction seem all-important. I do remember that each young person spoke longingly about family, friendship, security and purpose. Gangs prey upon that natural thirst. And by the time kids see they’ve been duped, there is no exit.

 

What strikes me over and over about the media coverage of violent crime is how often it implicitly blames the victim. I hope to write more about this soon, but in the context of sex work. Stay tuned.

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I’ve been taking the “All Originals” ensemble class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I’m reconnecting with music and musical people, and writing more than ever. Feels great. Here’s “When You Return to the City,” from last week’s “class recital” at the Independence Tap, an Irving Park neighborhood bar with great bears on tap.

Our class will join other ensembles on April 5 for the Old Town School’s regular “First Fridays” open house. Starts at 6 pm.

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You Can Come Out Now: Daylight Saving Time Reduces Crime

by Katy March 11, 2013

My latest column is up at Next American City. An excerpt: If anything, Chicago (and other northern cities) could benefit from even later sunsets. The British have been experimenting for decades with “Double Summer Time” — a two-hour daylight saving from spring to fall. Last year, British Parliamant considered a bill to make Daylight Saving Time permanent, [...]

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Far From Justice

by Katy February 7, 2013

My latest column at Next American City is up. I go to 26th & Cal about once a month–roughly as frequently as a defendant, victim, or their families might travel there for regular court dates. I dread the trip because it takes so long by CTA or costs a lot for a cab or igo + [...]

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A New Spork in the Road: Backpacker Magazine Reader Reporter

by Katy January 20, 2013

I’m headed to Salt Lake City tomorrow to try something entirely new. I’ll be joining Backpacker Magazine team as a reader reporter at the Outdoor Retailer Show. Monday thru Saturday, I’ll scout hundreds of outdoor retailer booths and providing readers with kid-in-a-candy-shop point of view. I hope to collect and share some thoughts on the [...]

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Prison Closures, Crowding, and Chicago

by Katy December 12, 2012

My latest column at Next American City is up. Here’s an excerpt: “In order to avoid constitutional and human rights challenges, Illinois must cut its prison population. To do so, it can either release more people or admit fewer. Decades of “tough on crime” laws limit option one. These laws hamstrung judges’ and parole boards’ [...]

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The Conscience Tax

by Katy November 7, 2012

Politicker checks in on  the four Republicans candidates who voted in favor of gay marriage: Elsewhere in the state, Democrat Ted O’Brien successfully claimed a Rochester seat previously held by Republican Jim Alesi. Mr. Alesi, facing a likely primary challenge after voting in favor of gay marriage in 2011, opted to not run for reelection. [...]

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The Myth of Disaster Looting

by Katy November 5, 2012

My first piece at the urban policy magazine Next American City is up. “The Myth of Disaster Looting” is about the counter-intuitive crime drop that typically follows natural disasters–including Sandy. Here’s why it’s important to dispel the myth of disaster looting: Fearful of looting and other crime, some people stay home and protect their property, even [...]

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Does Race or Gender Influence Professional Judgment?

by Katy October 20, 2012

My latest at the Huffington Post (written for Chicago Appleseed) is up.

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Pitch Perfect Technical Writing

by Katy September 17, 2012

Ebay has mastered customer service communications. Here’s an email I got today. “We recently tried to deposit $6.88 into your bank account.” Subtext: We have your money. Pay attention. It takes responsibility from the start, is indirect about the date (less pointed) but specific about the amount and thus validates the email as a unique [...]

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