Fifty-eight Americans were killed in Chicago in August 2010, two shy of the number in Iraq that entire year.
One of them was South Side resident Damian Turner. A tall, charismatic teenager with a passion for video games and rapping, 18-year-old Turner had cofounded the grassroots activist group Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY). With it, he campaigned to improve conditions at a city juvenile-detention center. On August 15, he was shot in the back just after midnight at a South Side intersection. He was pronounced dead about an hour later, after an ambulance drove him to a downtown hospital.
The next week, about a month before Turner would have turned 19, friends and family packed the nearby St. Andrews Temple for his funeral, where they received copies of his rap mixtape. “People really didn’t want to listen to it, because they were going to cry,” recalled Turner’s stepsister Alexssa Moore.
Turner’s homicide—the result of a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting—was one of 436 in Chicago that year. But it stirred a city in which activists, politicians, and medical experts were already grappling with the absence of trauma care for the victims of gun violence on the South Side. After Turner died, FLY made his 10-mile ambulance trip downtown its signature issue.
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On what would have been Turner’s 19th birthday, members of FLY and its parent organization, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), held a rally in front of the University of Chicago Medical Center to call for the opening of a facility that would treat severely injured patients. The state-of-the-art medical complex, which touts itself as “The Forefront of Medicine” and is backed by a $782 million endowment, sits in the affluent neighborhood of Hyde Park, just four blocks north of the weedy intersection where Turner was shot. But like many other South Side shooting victims, Turner traveled downtown, to the trauma center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Often, the victims of traumatic injuries—caused by such things as car crashes, shootings, and falls—are taken to the nearest trauma center, hospital operating rooms equipped with cutting-edge tools and teams of specialized surgeons. Severely injured patients are 25 percent less likely to die if they receive treatment at a top-level trauma center than if they are treated in an emergency room. But it’s been 25 years since the South Side has had one. The University of Chicago Medical Center closed its adult trauma center in 1988, after only two years of operation. And in 1990, the South Side’s last adult trauma center closed. Today, the only four adult trauma facilities within city limits are downtown and on the North and West sides.