As reporters we can use these scenes to explain what's happening to a neighborhood in a city of neighborhoods. But none of the observations captures how it feels to cover this night after night.

In short, it feels bad. We're paid observers of human misery. We go toward bad things, watch people during the worst moments of their lives and hope they'll talk to us.

It needs to be done. I think our work adds to the public conversation. But it's stressful, it's exhausting, it's never-ending. Things that shouldn't be normal become so, to the point where it's almost comical. We get slap-happy. We argue. Gallows humor creeps into our talk.

Before we went to the scene on Exchange, photographer E. Jason Wambsgans and I were standing outside a murder scene in the West Pullman neighborhood. The victim had been taken away, and we were standing near our cars a few houses away from a lone squad car.

We heard a few shots, then a "zing." It sounded like a ricochet, like a round had bounced off a piece of metal nearby.

A few seconds later — it can be difficult to judge time when you're in the middle of something stressful — there was another shot that sounded like it came from a different gun.

We looked at each other, like, OK, it's gunfire. We heard it, we're OK, no point in ducking now. Let's call it in because they're shooting up the block.

While I called 911, Wambsgans tapped on the police car's window and told the officer what we saw and heard. Which wasn't much, given the night: gunfire and one or two guys ducking between cars.

So we stood there. It was three or four minutes after I called that officers were dispatched. A couple of unmarked cars rolled by, no blue lights. 911 calls had come from a couple blocks east too. A guy turned up at Roseland Community Hospital a few blocks away, shot in the side.

It wasn't the first time either of us had been within a block or two of a shooting.

Wambsgans watched some kids creep up between cars and let off a few shots into a restaurant in Little Village. I drove toward a shots-fired call and found at least one person in the street shooting before everyone jumped into cars and raced past me and then rammed each other.

They disappeared into the Back of the Yards neighborhood and, a few minutes later, a cop shouldered a rifle and trained it on the front of the car as his partner crept close on the driver side with her hand on a pistol.

That's what it's like to cover violence in this city. Quiet. Then gunfire. Short, to-the-point bursts of violence.

But the July Fourth weekend was different. More intense, gunfire often erupting after police arrived, sometimes aimed at police.

If someone is willing to shoot with hundreds of officers around, how's it going to be when they're not there? Getting between scenes is the most dangerous part of the job and what makes me most nervous.

Then there's the heartbreak. We've been to dozens of scenes where a parent struggles with the sight of his or her dead child, arms and legs twisted on the pavement, maybe a sheet covering him up.

It doesn't matter that the kid was armed or that he would have returned fire if he'd had the chance. It doesn't matter that he was a stone-cold gangbanger, a leader of young men, a shooter for the gang, a dope dealer. These are things worth exploring, but at that moment, a parent's grief is real. And it matters.

The screaming is the worst part. It's like going to a wake for someone you don't know. Except it's only been minutes since the loved one died. Not just dead, but dead on a dirty street, surrounded by crime tape.

As reporters we can't numb ourselves to this because being able to feel makes us good.

The job has changed me, and I've accepted that. It has started to wear on me. It's OK because I think it makes me more sensitive to what the people are going through.