Please note: The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and not of the Chicago Police Department and/or its officers. 

Last Friday, while my fellow college-aged friends were out enjoying their break from a life of academia, I was in the City of Chicago riding around in some of the roughest neighborhoods and gang torn territories in the country. From 5:00pm to 9:00pm, prime time in the City, I rode with the Chicago Police Department detectives on the north side and gained some first hand experience as to what really happens in the second city.

2 murdered. 2 shot. Police officer shot in robbery attempt. Gang activity at a new high. To many, these are headlines that simply become part of the daily routine. Growing up in the suburbs, there wasn’t a time that I can remember that I didn’t turn on the news to find a report of Chicago’s violence on the television screen. It’s become an everyday occurrence that many just shrug off as being “Chicago.”

After receiving a tour of Area North’s Detective Division, signing the appropriate waivers and donning my bullet proof vest (which hopefully I wasn’t going to need), we hit the streets to experience the reality behind the headlines. For the first couple hours, it was quiet as we journeyed through the various blocks of the north-side neighborhoods, the detective being sure to point out where the gang boundaries lay. At one point, we drove past Truman College, a public college run by the City of Chicago, where the 33-year veteran explained t0 me how this was “the DMZ” as far as gang territory goes. He went on to explain how two rival gangs, the Vice Lords and Black P Stones, occasionally bounced over their borders to pop a couple shots off at rival gang members right in front of the College. I was astounded by the fact that a school wasn’t even considered safe or “off limits” for gangs. I thought of my own college, nestled in the rural-ness of Michigan. We drove on.

We continued through various other neighborhoods, the detective sharing with me war stories of shootings from the past, always being sure to let me know whose “hood” we were in. Moving away from the major thoroughfares, it wasn’t uncommon for us to see gangs gathered in front of apartments, giving us the stare as we drove by. “Don’t watch their faces,” the detective instructed me, “check out their hands. That’s what’s gonna hurt you.” I took his advice .

Journeying west, we stopped for dinner before we were to trek into the west-side neighborhoods of Austin, some of the most violent in the city. Not even 10 minutes into our dinners, we got the call we had been waiting for all night. The detective answered his phone and informed me that “we grabbed a shooting.” In the car, heading east towards the lake with the lights flashing and siren blaring, I asked the detective where we were heading. “Truman,” he answered, the same place we were just at 30 minutes before.

We arrived on the scene and immediately noticed the shell casings that were scattered across the sidewalk and street. By the time we arrived, the scene was already secured, the evidence marked and the victim, a 17-year old boy, on the way to the hospital. The Detective gave me a tour of the crime scene as the victims bike lay propped against a concrete wall. As we examined the scene, the patrol officer relayed the story of how the boy was riding his bike when an unknown individual started shooting at him, luckily not hitting anything except the boy’s leg. The whole time, I kept thinking, “It’s right in front of a school!” After receiving the information from the patrol officers, we went down the hospital where the Detective interviewed the boy, about the same age as my sister, about the incident. It was most likely gang related- no surprise. We went back to the station, did the paperwork and the investigation began.

I don’t tell this story to scare people, I tell this story because it’s real. Behind the stories that grow ever-increasingly meaningless with each passing day, there are real people. Real families. Real police officers.

Chicago, the home of our own President Barack Obama, has the highest violent crime rates in the country. Simultaneously, it has one of the largest gang populations in the country, with somewhere around 70,000 gang members. Where do you even begin to address the problem? The thing is, it’s not only a local problem – it’s a national problem.

The gangs are fueled by narcotics coming from all over the world, but our government isn’t willing to fully protect our borders. Illegal aliens come into the city and utilize resources that don’t belong to them, but the government chooses to grant them amnesty. The regular, law-abiding citizens can’t get guns to protect themselves, but no matter what, the bad-guys are always able to get guns and hurt more people. Entitlement programs run rampant, going to non-deserving people who live off tax payer dollars while engaging in criminal enterprise. The list goes on and on.

If you want to stop the violence in Chicago and across the country, you need to fix the root of the problem. Go after these issues. We as Americans need to demand a solution from our elected officials; there’s no excuse for these things! It’s time we stood up for what was right. Don’t just talk about a solution, demand one. Lead the way and take America back – that’s what we need to do.

Shout out to all the Chicago Police Officers out there. Stay safe-  you’re all doing the right thing. Keep it up!

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Hank Prim | Hillsdale College | @HankPrim