I grew up in a section of Chicago that was called Murdertown in the local papers. This was back in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s.
My friends were beaten, stabbed, pulled from their bicycles and cars and knocked into the street. One of my friends was dragged out of his house by a gang and beaten with clubs until he was unconscious. He was a good boy, kind of sissy-like with long hair and a soft voice but a good boy. He was in the hospital for about a month. He didn’t want to ever leave it.
One time, a man was shot dead in front of my house. When I went outside after the police showed up to see what they were doing, a cop called me a mother fucker and told me he’d throw my ass in jail if I didn't get back home.
I was 12.
I went back into the house and never stepped outside again when someone was shot in front of my house.
I carried a knife, a switchblade, in my pocket. Twice I used it on somebody so that they wouldn't hurt me. Once it was a friend, who was just joking around. He jumped out of an alley way when he saw me passing. I didn't know he was joking, and I stabbed him in the stomach.
When I couldn't get a knife, I carried a hammer or a baseball bat. The hammer was better, lighter, and I could put it in my belt.
Every couple of years there were riots. Mostly in the summer. One time it was so bad that Mayor Daley, the old one, felt the cops needed some back-up so he called in the National Guard. The soldiers drove around the neighborhood in jeeps with loaded machine guns. Nights, you could hear the shooting, see flames rolling off of apartment buildings burning just south of us.
Three of the priests at my old parish St. Fidelis were convicted years later of being pedophiles. They heard my confessions and told me to say three Hail Marys and three Our Fathers. They weren't interested in me. I wasn't pretty enough for them.
One time a gang attacked my mother and me when we were coming home from the supermarket. This was in the early afternoon. It was bright and warm. We were carrying shopping bags, and they wanted to steal our food. We fought them off. My mother beat one of the gang boys down to the sidewalk. He tried to crawl away, but she kept kicking him and kicking him. He pleaded with his homeboys to come save him from my mom. They wouldn't come. They were afraid. Finally, my mother stopped kicking the gang boy, and she let him crawl away.
My mother had survived 2 years of life in a concentration camp, and she knew how to get by in the streets of Chicago, in our old neighborhood.
We finally had to move when the house we had been living in was burned to the ground during a gang war in the early 1970s.
Nobody every rebuilt on that spot. It’s still an empty lot in Murdertown 42 years later.