Being third largest city in the U.S., some call Chicago the “Capital of Violence.” With new headlines every Monday morning announcing a number of Chicagoans being shot and killed over the weekend, the bloodshed of early August left even locals in a state of shock. With Trump calling out for National Guard to combat the violence and Chicago top cop sending more officers out on the streets to control it, let’s take a fresh, unbiased look at the underlying causes of the violence on the streets of the city.
While its homicide rate is not the highest in the U.S., Chicago has consistently had more total killings than any other U.S. city, which also led to it acquiring the famous title of being “The Most Dangerous City in America.” However, it’s not factually true — at least not according to the FBI reports.
There are not, in fact, more murders in Chicago than ever before. The number of homicides peaked at 920 in 1991. The death toll last year was 674—and that was down 15 percent from 2016. This year, even with the latest frenzy of shootings, the number of homicides is around 25 percent lower than it was at this point in 2017. While these are all signs of progress, it doesn’t seem to be sufficient enough, so let’s take a closer look at the reasons of what’s causing the Chicago violence to fuel up.
Chicago is flourishing economically, with a record-low unemployment rate of 3.8% and a third of its city workers making at least $100,000. But the wealth is not equally distributed over the starkly segregated neighborhoods. Lack of resources and opportunities often lead Chicagoans in poor communities to turn to violence. According to a study by Northwestern University, 12 poor, minority city neighborhoods account for 50% of Chicago’s shootings, with violence often being attributed to gang activity.
According to Rev. Michael Hatch, one of the organizers of the march that shut down Lake Shore Drive on August 2 to protest the violence, out of 50 schools closed in 2013, five were closed in the community of Garfield Park that the pastor serves. Additionally to the largest mass public school closure in the U.S. modern history, among other issues pulsating in the crowd during the march was a significant lack of health resources, including closing of half of the city’s mental health facilities, with majority of them located on the South Side plugged by violence.
The neighborhoods attacked by crime
There were 215 shootings in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago in the first 7 months of the year, which accounts for almost 12% of the total number of shootings in the whole City of Chicago during the same time period.
The median income in the majority African-American neighborhood is $20,000 less than the median income for Chicago, and almost a third of the neighborhood’s residents live below the poverty line, according to City-Data.com.
Not only has violent crime skyrocketed over the past couple of years, but Chicago police are increasingly unable to locate and arrest the offenders.
Just 17% of murders in Chicago were solved in 2017 — an all-time low, down from 41% in 2000.
The Chicago Police Department recovered 7,000 guns per year that had been illegally owned or associated with a crime between 2013 and 2016, according to a report published by the mayor’s office. That’s six times as many recovered guns per resident as New York and almost twice as many as Los Angeles, according to the report.
However, it’s illegal to sell or distribute guns in Chicago. And only 40% of the guns recovered came from areas of Illinois where gun regulations are more lax, according to the report. One problem in Chicago is the dismally low number of homicides that police are able to solve—about 1 in 6, and the department’s poor reputation among many of the people most at risk discourages the sort of cooperation from citizens that cops need to catch the killers.
Another 21% of guns came from Indiana, where gun regulations are among the weakest in the nation.
What is being done
Many community groups come together to organize gatherings, including block parties and picnics, to bring community members back into the neighborhood to rebuild their hope.
July 7, Fr. Michael Pfleger led a march that shut down Dan Ryan Expressway, and almost a month after, on August 2, activists once again gathered to protest against violence plugging the city, now on the North Side, shutting down Lake Shore Drive during a rush hour.
Republicans blame unbroken Democratic control of Chicago for its mayhem. However, partisan coloration is an unreliable indicator of crime patterns. Of the 10 states with the highest rates of violence, seven voted for Trump. Los Angeles, whose homicide rate is enviably low, has had only Democratic mayors since 2001.
Some blame the mayor and former police superintendent Garry McCarthy, who is running against Emanuel in the February election. McCarthy headed the Chicago Police Department from 2011 to 2015, and he claims credit for the improvement that occurred in that period.
But he was also in charge of Chicago police when an officer shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in a gross overreaction that police tried to cover up. The spike in murders began just after the release of a dashcam video showing the victim walking away from police before being riddled with bullets. The revelation, which contradicted official accounts, sparked public outrage.
From 2012 to 2015, the city spent more than $263 million on settlements, judgments and outside legal counsel for police misconduct. If police want more help from the communities they serve, this is not the way to get it.
The fight against crime can’t be restricted to more or better policing. Chicago’s crime problem is concentrated in a small number of poor, blighted, mostly African-American neighborhoods. Those areas owe their plight largely to a sordid history of systemic, deliberate racial discrimination and violence, endemic poverty, and neglect over decades.
The conditions that breed rampant crime in parts of Chicago came about not by accident but by policy. The recent attention shows that people here and elsewhere care about the violence. Do they care about fixing the causes?
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