An increase in gang violence has once again garnered Chicago the title “Murder Capital of the World.”
The homicide rate in Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, jumped 16 percent in 2012 to total 506 deaths at the end of the year. This is not to say, however, that homicides have increased evenly throughout the city. The homicides, which authorities describe as mostly gang-on-gang shootings, have almost exclusively taken place in the neighborhoods located to the south and west of the downtown district. The New York Times reports,
More than 80 percent of the city’s homicides took place last year in only about half of Chicago’s 23 police districts, largely on the city’s South and West Sides. The police district that includes parts of the business district downtown reported no killings at all. And while at least one police district on the city’s northern edge saw a significant increase in the rate of killings, the total number there still was dwarfed by deaths in districts on the other sides of town, and particularly in certain neighborhoods.
The gang-on-gang violence has escalated to the point that a young man, Sherman Miller was shot and killed outside St. Columbanus Catholic Church while attending the funeral of another man, James Holman who had been gunned down the week before. This homicide which happened “in the middle of the day, in the middle of a crowd,” has left many in the South Chicago neighborhood wondering if they will be safe anywhere. The lack of continued media attention to the murder of Mr. Miller also serves to highlight the disparities between the wealthy neighborhoods and streets of downtown and the poorer districts to the south and west. Reverend Corey B. Brooks Sr., who led both the funeral service for Mr. Holman and then Mr. Miller said,
It’s two different Chicagos. If something like that had happened at the big cathedral in downtown Chicago or up north at a predominantly white church, it would still be on the news right now, it would be such a major thing going on.
Like many other large metropolitan areas, Chicago is a city divided by race and socioeconomic status. On downtown streets and in neighborhoods on the affluent and mostly white North Side, residents are aware of the rise in the homicide rate but say it has not had an effect on their own sense of security. Kyong Lee, who who is a business owner only miles from the South and West side of the city said,
Police business on the North Side rarely seems to rise beyond an overly enthusiastic Cubs fan or a parking quibble, in the past he had, without consequence, forgotten to lock up his family’s shoe repair business.
In the South Side neighborhood of Back of the Yards the sentiment is exactly the opposite of residents on the North Side. Mothers talk about keeping their children inside at all times, other than when school is in session. And business owners in the district have taken to locking their doors during business hours.
Although the murder rate is at an all-time high, other crimes such as rape, robbery and car theft dropped 9 percent from 2011 to 2012. According to city officials, this improvement can be attributed to a citywide anti-gang strategy that “includes an elaborate police audit of gang members, removal of vacant buildings and efforts to involve neighbors.”
One of the saddest and most telling aspects of the rise in homicides is the fact that the victims are almost exclusively black males. Some may attribute that to the fact that so many of the homicides were gang related, or due to the neighborhoods the crimes took place in being predominantly black. Many try to claim that in the U.S. in the 21st century we are making headway against racism, but no matter how you chose to look at it the fact that black men are so often the victims of violent crime cannot be denied.
Ultimately, we need to look closely at what is happening in Chicago and determine what factors have led to this increase in violence. What separates Chicago from other cities, particularly ones where crime rates are going down? Is it related to education, the criminal justice system, particular changes in policing?
Gang violence in Chicago has put targets on too many young men, and it’s time Chicago’s leaders took some responsibility for reversing this trend.