Let's turn down the alarm over loud teens downtown

And yet in the public mind, the two incidents quickly became a single stick of dynamite, proof that the city was ready to explode.

This is a tough period in Chicago. Although crime is down, violence and the poverty that breeds it remain daily occurrences in certain neighborhoods.

In the past three months, we've seen a 15-year-old girl and a 6-month-old baby shot to death, allegedly by young men. The killings have renewed a mood of menace, and that mood inevitably affects how large, rowdy groups of young people are perceived when they come from poor neighborhoods into the privileged parts of town.

A mood of menace comes and goes in Chicago. So do the unruly young people downtown.

A year ago on St. Patrick's Day, I took a friend from Canada down to see Chicago's glories. The weather was warm, and the gorgeous city was packed with more young, loud people than I'd ever seen. I felt anxious and tried to pinpoint why.

Because I hate packs and crowds?

Because these teenagers were making so much noise?

Because their skin wasn't the color of mine and I had the unusual experience of feeling out of place downtown?

Whatever the reasons, my anxiety involved the sense that if something went wrong — if a shot was fired, if a fight flared up — the violence would ripple through the crowd like dominoes and something truly terrible would happen.

Nothing terrible came to pass, but the night made me think about how much our reaction to what does happen can be warped by our fear of what might.

The police plan to stay vigilant downtown, and that's important.

It's also important that we turn down the volume on the alarm so that we can hear the facts over the sound of fear.