Hudson Deaths Latest Chapter in South Side Chicago Violence

The brutal deaths of three members of singer-actress Jennifer Hudson's family shocked the nation last week. But as residents of Chicago's South Side, where the killings took place, know well, violent crime is an all-too common occurrence.

Even so, the slayings of Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, her brother, Jason Hudson, and 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, have brought an outpouring of grief, prayer vigils and cries for help.

King's death appears particularly gruesome. Police sources told the Associated Press that the boy was likely alive when he was taken from his home and killed in the sport-utility vehicle where his body was found.

The murders have also focused new attention on an area plagued by violence so chronic that the gunfire coming from the Hudson family home last Friday morning did not even warranted a phone call to police.

Author Alex Kotlowitz, who lives just outside Chicago, has been writing about the problems and the promise of inner-city Chicago since penning "There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America." As the Hudson family prepares for a public memorial service Sunday (Jennifer Hudson is not expected to attend) and a private funeral Monday, spoke to Kotlowitz about the city's rising homicide rate, how much has changed since the publication of his best-selling book 16 years ago and whether there are still no children there.

These killings took place in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Give us a snapshot of the area.

Englewood is a neighborhood, like so many, which has struggled both with forces from within and without. For years, it suffered from disinvestment, and that wear and tear shows in the neighborhood. Vacant lots. Few grocery stores. No movie theaters. Crumbling homes. I was just there the other day, and the community has taken a terrific hit from the foreclosure crisis. Some blocks had four or five homes boarded up. Yet, amidst all this you have to remind yourself that every morning men and women march off to work, children walk to school. People are somehow managing to stay erect in an otherwise slumping world.

But as you suggest, it's the violence -- especially the gunplay -- that is most disturbing and troubling. It's a neighborhood that experiences one of the highest rates of violence in the city. Homicides citywide are up considerably from last year. The gunfire can be so frequent that often people don't report gunshots. Apparently, when the Hudson family was shot there were 10 bodies at the city morgue, all victims of violence, awaiting identification. I've spent 25 years writing on our central cities, and for me what has been most perplexing is the stubborn, persistence of the violence. In one weekend this past spring in Chicago, 37 people were shot, seven of them fatally.

Gunplay, I fear, has become all too common. And Chicago is not some exception. In recent years, homicides are up in cities across the nation.

It appears that Jennifer Hudson's mother and brother were shot in the morning but not found until that afternoon. How is that no one responded to the sound of gunshots that morning? Have gunshots become so commonplace?

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