Yes, some on that block are part of a gang in a bloody internal war over narcotics. But most of the people hanging out that night were just there to party. Either way, we’re all human, and everyone on the block was always friendly with me.
The scene was horrific. There were dozens of people who looked dazed, scared, as they walked away from the carnage. Some were sobbing, holding each other. A few shouted angrily at the police. And then there were those huddled around bodies on the ground. Half a dozen people had been shot, but so far only a couple of paramedics had reached the scene. I had put on surgical gloves while driving, and now I grabbed a medical kit.
Chicago police now go through Law Enforcement Medical and Rescue Training, an eight-hour course focused on treating gunshot wounds and other traumatic injuries. It’s probably the best training cops get in the academy.
I ran toward a group surrounding a young man on the ground, his face covered with blood. They were screaming, panicked.
It looked as though the young man had been shot in the head. If so, there was likely nothing I could do. One of his friends grabbed me and yelled, “Can you help him?” That shook me out of my horror. Entry wounds from small-caliber weapons can be small and difficult to find. In the dark, amid all the blood, I had to use my fingers as I searched his face for the wound. The heat and smell of the blood are hard to think about even now.
Then he began to seize. One of his friends held his hands, yelling, “I got you, I got you. I’m with you, I’m with you. You’re going to be okay.” Seizing is a sign that the brain is swelling — only the paramedics could save him. I shouted for them, then moved on to see whether there were others I could help.
The next was a man in his 40s. He was fortunate: shot only once, through the right buttocks. When I shoved combat gauze into the entry and exit wounds, he screamed, grabbing me violently — and then he actually apologized. The capacity of people to express their humanity, even in terrible circumstances, is staggering. I asked his friend to hold the gauze in place and moved to the next person who had been shot.
A paramedic working on a victim nearby looked over and said, “He’s got one in the chest and one in the leg.” I cut the man’s shirt and found that the chest wound was really in his belly. Luckily, it wasn’t bleeding very badly. But I stuck combat gauze in the wound just in case. He was awake and alert. His friends nervously tried to calm him with humor, but his eyes were panicked. I cut open his jeans and found a single gunshot wound to the leg. It wasn’t bleeding much, either. I asked one of his friends to hold gauze on the wound.
There was nothing I could do for the next one. She was lying facedown in a pool of her own blood, shot in the head, as the paramedics worked on her. I can’t stop thinking about her. She appeared to have dressed up to go to a party, doing her makeup, fixing her hair — maybe at about the same time I had been putting on my uniform and getting ready for work. I walked away from the scene for a moment, unable to control my emotions. After I got a better grip, I went back to help calm the crowd.
My father has been a firefighter on the West Side of Chicago for more than three decades. He has seen the same scenes dozens of times. And it has taken a toll. My grandfather was also a Chicago firefighter for decades. He took his own life a few years ago. My family is well aware of the consequences of trauma.
Imagine the trauma that hits the families and friends of shooting victims in Chicago and other places across the country. I worry we’re becoming numb to these incidents. This is an emergency. People need to get into the trenches to help. That means more tutors for children in impoverished neighborhoods, more social workers, teachers, grant writers, paramedics — you name it.
And, yes, we need more good people in law enforcement. It would be tragic if widely publicized episodes of inexcusable police behavior discouraged talented, altruistic young men and women from joining the overwhelming majority of police officers who care deeply about the communities they serve. This is an emergency.