Under a searing bright sun in Back of the Yards, a group of Catholic sisters read the names of Chicago’s dead, one by one.

They stand vigil every month to recite the names and ages of those killed in recent weeks. They can measure the city by how many names are on their list. Sometimes it stretches over both sides of the page.

Next time, if precedent holds, they will have a long list to read. Memorial Day typically marks the beginning of a warm-weather surge in shootings, and this year’s holiday weekend was one of Chicago’s most violent in years.

That Saturday, the sisters prayed for the victims’ families to find comfort and for God to have mercy on the killers. Then Sister Donna Liette read an ancient story.

“When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him,” she read. “The Lord then said: What have you done? Listen: Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!”

They have prayed in cold and wind and heat. They have recited Scripture, blood calling to God, while standing on a sidewalk stained with blood.

Sister Donna Liette during a vigil for Chicago homicide victims on May 27, 2023, in the New City neighborhood.

Violence can be an alienating force. The sisters have prayed on corners where neighbors are wary of leaving their homes to join in, instead peeking out from behind curtains. The shooting tallies widely reported on heavy weekends are often just numbers: faceless and nameless.

But we are all tied tight to each other, they believe, whether we realize it or not. Cain-and-Abel violence, brother against brother, is the only kind there is.

“In reality, we are all brothers and sisters,” Sister Carol Crepeau said after the vigil. “Look at the cosmic reality. We are all connected.”

The violence over the holiday weekend touched all corners of Chicago. Eleven people were shot to death, and another was fatally stabbed. Some four dozen more were wounded by gunfire.

The youngest victims were toddlers: Two 2-year-olds on opposite ends of town were shot within hours of each other Sunday, both struck in the hand; at least one of those shootings was apparently an accident. The oldest was 77, shot along with two others who were standing on a sidewalk in South Chicago early Monday. He was listed in critical condition.

Chicago police work the scene where a 2-year-old boy was shot in the hand in the 7900 block of South Hermitage Avenue on May 28, 2023. According to police, the child was playing in a bedroom when a gun was discharged.

Mayor Brandon Johnson is the newest in a long line of city leaders who have pledged to stop the violence. His predecessors largely failed. The problem is deeply rooted and resistant to sound-bite-friendly political fixes.

And the bloodshed has, as usual, continued past the holiday weekend. A mass shooting in Englewood on Tuesday evening left four people wounded, two critically.

Johnson issued a statement Tuesday afternoon calling the violence “intolerable,” and promising “every single resource at our disposal to protect every single life in our city.”

“I know none of us will rest until every Chicagoan can safely enjoy all the beauty our city has to offer,” the statement read.

There was violence that weekend, and chaos, and mourning. There were attempts to prevent more bloodshed. There were cookouts and festivals and joy rides. The weather was perfect for four days straight, and all Chicago was out in the fresh air.

Englewood: A little boy dressed in white dances in circles at a party, bopping his head and swinging his arms to the beat.

Austin: A group gets into a bellowing argument next to a street where someone had just been shot in both legs. On the other side of the crime scene, a man picks up litter off the grass and places it gently into a trash bag.

Garfield Boulevard, from Princeton all the way to Prairie: Yard signs stand in the parkway bearing heavy block letters. “VIOLENCE ANYWHERE IS VIOLENCE EVERYWHERE.”

Pamela Turner stared hard at the crime scene across Clyde Avenue, shocked and a little confused.

Moments earlier, the block’s group text had started buzzing: Someone was shot in a red brick building toward the south end of the block. Turner came out in time to see someone carried out on a stretcher, bleeding from the mouth. The man, 22, had been shot in “the facial area,” police later said. He was in critical condition.

It was unusual for her block, Turner said. Other parts of town, other parts of the neighborhood, see it much more often — often enough that the city can sort of brush it off. That bothers her.

“People like to act like it’s normal,” she said. “Just because it’s something that’s constantly happening doesn’t mean it’s normal. This is not normal.”

She clasped her hands tight under her chin and kept staring across the street, where police had put up long ribbons of yellow tape. She has lived there for 22 years and likes it. It’s close to the express bus downtown, and you can ride your bike right down to the lake. She hopes the house for sale up the street goes to someone who will live there, not rent it out. She believes in putting down roots.

Officers work the scene where a 22-year-old man was shot inside a residential building on the 7900 block of South Clyde Avenue on Memorial Day, May 29, 2023, in Chicago.

“It’s always, when something gets bad, people pick up and leave,” she said. “That’s not the answer. You’ll be moving for the rest of your life.”

A man in a glowing yellow polo shirt walked up to introduce himself: Rick Stewart, an outreach worker or “peacekeeper” with Claretian Associates, a South Side nonprofit.

He was somewhat puzzled to be here on Clyde: This block and the next one over are rarely trouble spots. Closer to 77th, or a few blocks west past Jeffery, it’s “another world,” he said.

Turner, who moved here from New York in the early aughts, said it’s the kind of thing that shows police need to consistently walk their beats, and bring back stop-and-frisk. Stewart said if he were mayor he would take the “handcuffs” off the cops.

But his job is to keep the peace; and he was out over the weekend trying to keep an eye on hot spots and defuse any conflicts. On Saturday, he said, he de-escalated a brewing knife fight in time for police to arrive. That same day, he resolved — at least for now — a complicated dispute between two men over owed money and a stolen gun.

He’ll need to keep an eye on that one, though. The man whose gun was taken said he was happy with the truce and he wouldn’t make trouble, Stewart said, but who knows if he really meant it.

As far as Stewart knew, the shooting on Clyde didn’t fit the patterns he was accustomed to. All he could do, he said, was try to talk to the family, figure out what happened, and try to head off any retaliation.

Hyde Park: A car pockmarked with bullet holes sits outside the University of Chicago emergency room, where a passenger was being treated for a critical gunshot wound to the back.

Little Village: A small group carries large signs urging people to come to Jesus.

All over the city: Three-wheelers lit up like carnival rides buzz down the streets, alone or in convoys but almost always thumping music.

Warm-weather violence is partially just a function of opportunity — more people are outside, meaning more chance for conflicting groups to bump up against each other. After a certain point, under the right conditions, it might become a self-perpetuating cycle.

Darrell Dacres demonstrates on a Warren Park chessboard: He knocks two gold pawns to the side. In response, obviously, the gold team will want to take out two silver pawns. Then the silver team retaliates in turn.

“These days become revenge kill days, on both sides (of a conflict),” he said. “Both groups lost people on certain days.”

Dacres was at the chessboards Saturday afternoon after inviting the neighborhood, including the at-risk participants in the ONE Northside violence prevention program he runs to come out and play.

The youths in the program need to feel comfortable outside around everyone else, and everyone else needs to feel comfortable around them. Chess reads as neutral and welcoming, he said.

People play chess at Warren Park, in the 6600 block of North Western Avenue in Chicago, on May 27, 2023. A violence reduction organization called ONE Northside, in partnership with Communities Partnering 4 Peace, brought together workers and young adults to play chess and eat as a means of peaceful gathering during the Memorial Day weekend.

The game can be therapeutic too, he said — teaching the kids how to strategize, how to defend themselves, how to learn from losing and try again next time.

Besides, he grins, “I don’t care if you’re in Mississippi, ain’t no cop gonna stop you from playing chess.”

The location was chosen because a teenage boy was killed in Warren Park last year. It’s not quite a memorial, Dacres said, just a way to show a positive presence.

Dacres grew up in West Rogers Park. His brother was shot on Howard Street in 2007; Dacres himself was shot and wounded riding his bike at Granville and Fairfield a year later. He got involved with gangs, he said; he felt like he had “grown problems” and other kids at school couldn’t relate.

He had children and started getting his life together, and has worked with violence intervention groups for years.

Dacres won election to the 20th District police council earlier this year on a campaign to reform the department and reallocate some of its funding to community services.

“(When) the killers are out there, I want you to be a tough cop,” he said — but that’s not a substitute for real social services and thoughtful programming.

“Once you realize the people doing harm to the community are part of the community, that’s half the battle,” he said.

After awhile, people in the park wandered over to the chessboards: a pair of white hipsters, a Black man with thick braids. They went for a round, then the winners played each other, tournament-style.

Garfield Park: Officers radio that there are 200 people in the street, “just fighting,” and they won’t disperse. “If they don’t want to leave, start locking them up and throwing them in that wagon.”

South Deering: A 17-year-old boy opens his front door, hears gunfire, and realizes he is shot in the leg.

Eisenhower Expressway, near the exit to Central: A billboard advertises a cooking competition show, “Crime Scene Kitchen.”

There were no melees in Millennium Park. Which must have come as a relief to the new mayor, who took some heat for the violent downtown chaos in April, before he was actually the city’s boss.

Friday evening the park was ringed with portable metal barriers; to get in, you had to wait in line at a shabby green canopy, then empty your pockets and get wanded.

On the other side of the canopy: tourists at The Bean, families in Cubs gear, teen girls in sparkly prom dresses and their dates with fresh haircuts.

Among them were a group of community volunteers who had partnered with police to help head off any problems. Word had spread that local youths were planning another gathering at the park, the kind of thing that had in the past spiraled into violence.


The volunteers were given flyers with instructions on how to engage: Avoid physical contact, act like a mentor and not a parent, “do not antagonize youth or officers.”

As the night wore on, police kept tabs on smaller groups of teens, 10 or 20, walking en masse around the Loop. Supervisors radioed officers to remind them that, if their cars were parked nearby, they should keep their lights flashing. By 10:30 the Loop was mostly empty of people, but full of blue light.

Weekend gallows humor on the police scanner:

(Call of a gang disturbance) “All the Vice Lords are having a party, I’m sad I wasn’t invited.”

(At shift change) “I’m on my way to the beach, y’all shutting it down?

(Before reading off a long list of places where gunshots had been heard) “Hey, everyone, the fun just keeps on funning.”

Police patrol the tunnel under DuSable Lake Shore Drive on May 26, 2023, in Chicago near North Avenue Beach. The tunnel leads to a park near the Latin School of Chicago.

The game starts with a prayer circle, and the jerseys are printed with peace signs. Jimmie Brooks, founder of the Chicago Peace League, says he wants to remind the players that they’re here for a mission that’s beyond just basketball.

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There’s a loud “AMEN,” then the tipoff, and a semifinal game of the Memorial Day Weekend tournament has begun.

It’s important, Brooks says, “especially on Memorial Day weekend — the weather’s usually good — just being intentional about our space, and making sure we have an experience to stay off the street.”

Ayden Williams watches his father play basketball at the Chicago Peace League Memorial weekend tournament at the Breakthrough FamilyPlex in East Garfield Park on May 28, 2023.

Brooks began the Peace League last year, under the auspices of Breakthrough, a West Side community organization. They try to schedule games during “peak times” when violence is more likely; Friday nights, for example. During the weekend tournament, teenage Breakthrough participants manned the scoreboard.

The game gets intense in the semifinal round. It’s a defense-heavy game, and the players are talkative, Davevontay Johnson notes. It’s good, he says, for the kids to see the players communicate with each other on the court.

“I want them to learn to be competitive in life but also be in control of your emotions,” said Johnson, who grew up nearby and used to work at Breakthrough. “(The game) shows them how to deal with losses and prevail even when the odds aren’t in your favor.”

The semifinal goes into overtime, then the team in red — GGAB, or Go Get A Bucket — clinches the win with a few pristine 3-pointers. They advance to the championship game. It begins with another prayer circle.


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