Twenty-year-old Davonte Flennoy was killed on a Monday night in June 2012. As the setting for a murder, South Rockwell Street, in Chicago’s Marquette Park, was familiar enough to border on cliché. The last thing Flennoy saw as bullets entered his chest, arm, and head could have been the dumpsters artlessly ranked in the alley behind him or the razor wire curling atop a nearby chain-link fence. More than fifty other people had been shot throughout Chicago in the preceding ninety-six hours, ten of them fatally. Most of the shootings, and every one of the murders, occurred on streets like this one, in low-income neighborhoods on the city’s South Side.
That spring was a bloody one in the city, with homicides up nearly 35 percent over the year before. More than three fourths of the victims were black, most from a cluster of neighborhoods in the south and west: Englewood, Chicago Lawn, New City, Roseland. South Side activists feared the consistency of the crime reports might have a numbing effect, allowing people in the safer and whiter parts of town to tune out the distinctly personal tragedy of each shooting. On the day Flennoy was killed, dozens of activists had put on identical white T-shirts spattered with red paint, and nine of them had lain on the lawn outside St. Sabina church in the South Side neighborhood of Auburn Gresham. “These are not just statistics,” shouted Michael Pfleger, the church’s pastor, when NBC 5 showed up. “These are human beings.” They hoped to individualize the victims, but their matching costumes only seemed to underscore the anonymity of the body count.