As the sun set on a warm Chicago day, there was no pretending that one night on the streets was going to be anything other than a glimpse of reality. But this year, Chicago's image has been defined by shots heard - and seen - around the word, usually snippets of carnage and mayhem.
One hundred and twenty four people have been killed so far in 2010 - one per day - nearly the number of Americans killed during the same period in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. So this one night in Chicago, in the small swath of urbanity where almost all the victims have died, we stayed to find out what it's like on the firing line and when the gun smoke clears; for an elderly man limping down the street at midnight; the neighbor on the phone at 2 a.m.; the people in the laundromat at all hours.
"We had a guy killed here about three weeks ago. It's all terrible. We've got to do better," said Laura, laundromat manager.
"Shots fired" is one of the most common calls to police in the district. When people around here call 9-1-1 to report shots fired, they usually do so anonymously. When there are shots fired, sometimes they hit;sometimes they don't.
On this night, the police spent hours responding to calls of shots fired from alleys and gangways, on street corners, in parking lots and living rooms.
"It scared the soul out of me. So I called the police and told them they were running toward Ashland going eastbound," said Hansard.
As paramedics treated the intended target - injured when he dived for cover - neighbors were still shielding their children from what they say is an every night occurrence.
Not far away in another incident police said a gang patrol tried to take down a man, but only wounded him in the leg. After he was put into an ambulance to be stabilized, a group gathered across the street and taunted him. A Chicago police sergeant with an automatic rifle stood guard.
All night, we found most residents not interested in talking or saying they knew nothing, covering their faces and invoking a code of silence that for many extends from the press to the police.
Police and residents said each and every violent incident we saw involved gang members.
According to a new Chicago police study of all 12,278 murders in Chicago between 1991 and 2008, the statistics reveal a continuing growth in gang violence. Forty percent of all Chicago murders in 2008 were gang-related. Read Part I and Part II of the study.
"How would you like to have this gun aimed at a police officer? Your son or daughter or mother or father or your brother or sister?" Mayor Daley said last week.
And despite Mayor Daley's disquieting photo op last week, his own police department's statistics show that in 2008, 77 percent of all city murders were committed with handguns that are already banned.
The police data reveals one statistic has changed. In 1991, Chicago police solved 67 percent of all murder cases, most with an arrest and prosecution. That clearance rate has plummeted. In 2008, the last year sampled, only one of every three murders in the city was solved.
That didn't deter 72-year-old Curtis Penny from risking a midnight walk.
"They get out of your way because they figure you can't hardly make it," said Penny.
"It's a tough neighborhood. I don't know why people are so angry and why people are doing what they're doing, especially killing the little ones," said Laura.
At the Laundromat, Laura who declined to give her last name, told me she would like to see Illinois National Guard soldiers on the streets of her community. She said Mayor Daley should set aside pride and politics and remind gangs who actually owns the streets. She stopped short of suggesting that the mayor himself spend one night in her neighborhood. But if Mr. Daley did, he would see that police seem to be doing all they can with what they have.