“I feel like everything around me is burning.” That is the message I just texted to a friend in response to her text about a fire in a strip mall near her home. Every five to ten minutes, I hear a fire truck or police car roar by outside my window. When I do not hear the sirens, I hear my young disillusioned neighbors. They are bragging about the shoes, clothes, weave, sunglasses, and various other items that they have looted from nearby stores and shops. They are selling the stuff from their trunks and backseats. Cars and people have been lined up outside to get a look at their wares all day.
I stand in my window and look out in both amazement and sadness. I am amazed at how easily they excuse away their actions. They laugh and celebrate their participation in the destruction of our community. They looted their own neighborhood. They stole from themselves. When the false excitement of it all dies down, will they realize what they have done? Will they recognize that by vandalizing, looting, and burning the few businesses we have, they have perpetuated the belief that businesses in low-income neighborhoods like Englewood do not succeed. Therefore, there is no need to invest in those neighborhoods. In our neighborhood.
George Floyd’s murder was a reason for black people to get upset. We have the right to be mad. We have the right to yell. We have the right to take to the streets in protest. Being Black in America should not be a death sentence. Rioting is not new. When you back us up against a wall, we will eventually come out swinging. There is only so much we can take before the pressure becomes too much, and it all blows. We saw it in the ’60s, the ’90s, and we continue to see it today.
But as I listened and watched from my window, I was struck with deep sadness. I am sad that their actions, the actions of a few, will take away from what is really important. America cannot continue to undervalue the lives of Black people. Our lives matter, so please allow us to live. I am more saddened that my young neighbors cannot see that. I am saddened that to them, this is fun and games—a way to get free stuff and make some quick cash. I am saddened that they can plan and organize a way to steal from our community but not to better it. I am sad that while yes, there are systematic and generational obstacles that they face each day they have still chosen to channel their talents not to overcome these challenges, but rather create more for themselves. More importantly, I am mad that America has put Black people in a situation that would even create such a circumstance.
Today I pray for my city, my community, my people, my Englewood. I pray that we will soon come out of this and begin the healing process. I pray that we will not be written off. I pray the renaissance that was the rebuilding of Englewood will continue. I pray that we find peace and love in ourselves, our neighborhood, and in others.
Paula Shelton is a lifestyle writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @beboldshineon.