Why Are So Many Black Males Being Murdered in Chicago?

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.

Photo: AP/File

About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. Poor education system, corrupt police officers, fast and easy money from the drugs trade. The reasons behind it aren’t quite as mysterious as you make out.

  2. VERY interesting stuff. The Chicago Police force is massive by any global standard. Why are THEY not able to do anything about this??? seriously!

    It sounds like they just don’t care about these people.

  3. It kind of saddens me to see the lack of responses to this article. Whereas the articles regarding gun control generated countless responses, this one has only had a select few. Chicago is simply representative of several major metro areas.

    There’s been little discussion as to what could be contributing to this. Any discussion on what can be done, what should be done? I presented the Red Eye stats in other articles that focused on isolated incidents and was very happy when this article was written … thinking that finally someone is bringing to light some real problems that are often times pushed aside.

    Maroonsistsa, thank you for contributing. Earls comment sums it up.

  4. This comment threw me: “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.” I’ve lived on both the north side and the south side and the north side isn’t peaches and cream either. A couple of weeks ago, a lady was raped right by the Morse Red Line station. I found out earlier this week that they believe they found the rapist through DNA evidence. I remember in August a flash mob of teenagers going into a store in Wicker Park, robbing the store and beating up the employees who tried to block the door. This weekend an 18-year-old girl had a shot wound from a car that drove by and shot at her on North Malden Avenue in the Sheridan Park neighborhood and a 21-year-old was shot in Uptown neighborhood, both on the north side.

    While the south side still gets most of the crime, some of it is traveling north and many neighborhoods have changed. As far as kids not going outside, I grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s on the south side where gang violence was completely out of control but we still played and hung out in our neighborhoods. The sad part is that kids are growing desensitized to the violence, not necessarily scared. Areas like Brainerd Park on the south side used to be gang initiation territory and Evergreen Plaza’s movie theater had shoot-outs so much that they closed the location. It still didn’t stop me from seeing movies nor did it stop me from going to daycamp there. You were just more conscious of your surroundings.

    I definitely don’t want to downplay the violence but it’s not a complete war zone ALL the time. The city could definitely do better though. Gangs are part of the problem but the bigger problem is lack of male role models and the job situation. So much of the crime is drug-related on top of being gang related. People can’t find jobs. They sell drugs. Start going into each other’s territory to sell and guess what? Gang violence carries over. Too many innocent people get mixed in the crossfire.

    Chicago is hard to love sometimes.

  5. Homicides in Chicago peaked in 1974 = 970,
    1992 = 943
    2012 = 506

    But everyone knows that correlation is not the same as causation.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Don’t aggravate the panic-mongers by challenging them with facts. Telling people that crime is getting worse is where the money is today. It’s really hard to run for office, write a bestseller, or get a lot of air time by pointing out that many crime trends have been going down for a long time. Bo-ring. It’s especially bad for business for sales of guns, home alarm systems, self-defense classes, etc.

      • wellokaythen says:

        P.S. Seriously, though, that change over time does complicate any simplistic theory about murder rates. Since 1974 not only has the number of homicides dropped almost in half, but the population of Chicago has increased in the meantime, so the drop in the per capita rate is even more dramatic.

        Meanwhile, there are still plenty of poor people in South Chicago, though I wonder how their lives compare to their lives in 1974. If the murder rate is about racism, then how does the drop in the murder rate compare to the changing racial demographic? I bet Chicago has a higher percentage of African American residents today (or at least people of color) than it did in 1974, so shouldn’t the number of victims be higher instead of lower?

        I bet Chicago has more firearms today than it did in 1974, so the number of guns can’t be the deciding factor, either.

    • RedEye reports 513 homicides at the end of 2012, a 15 percent increase from 448 homicides in 2011. RedEye organizes homicides based on the date the incident occurred, not when the victim died. Regardless of the gap in deaths between the three years mentioned, does that make the 513 people who were killed any less important? How about instead of feeling like “It’s only 513 compared to decades before” we focus on getting it to steadily decrease. In 2012, it INCREASED. That’s WHY the focus has turned to Chicago again.

      The murder rate is not about racism. A massive amount of people being killed are black folks killing black folks, I believe. Although the article above says it’s gang related, I’ve personally known far too many people who were killed over the years who the police bunched into “gang related” who were not in gangs. It’s easier to shrug it off and assume that’s the case than to actual do the research.

    • One factor that did contribute to the rate going down is that the public housing projects were torn down. They were no more then breeding grounds or better yet killing fields.

  6. wellokaythen says:

    I kept waiting for the article above to make the obvious point about MEN being the overwhelming vast majority of murder victims in this case, but it never quite got there.

    If a poor black man is more likely to be a murder victim than anyone else, it is not just because of poverty and racism. It is also just as much because he is MALE. Look at the victim percentages any way you want, the biggest inequality is in gender. Being male is probably the biggest factor in being likely to get murdered in our society, not being black or poor. If it were primarily about race, one would expect there to be comparable numbers of black women murdered, but that is probably not the case.

    Being a “black man” means that you are “black” and also that you are a “man.” Our society shoots at BOTH of those attributes. Being a black man is a double whammy, not a single whammy. Each of those characteristics puts a bull’s eye on your back.

    On a separate note, it would be important to factor out differences in population density, especially when it comes to residential neighborhoods. The business district didn’t have murders, but maybe relatively few people live there anyway. The poorer neighborhoods have more people crammed into them, so mathematically they are bound to have slightly more murders than elsewhere, just because they have more people. “Half of the police districts” does not necessarily mean half of the population. (Maybe the precincts are supposed to serve an eqal number of people? I don’t know.) The distribution may be more even than it looks.

  7. Grinding poverty, fatherlessness, drugs, lack of dominant culture attention (race), accumulated hopelessness, anger, and then access to guns.

    In our work with young males we like to quote FredricK Douglass: It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. In the short run we can’t do much about the BIG issues, but getting good adult men to work with young guys would be a great intervention.

  8. But i thought handguns were banned in Chicago? So if they are not shooting each other with ARs, it must be swords or something…cuz the handguns are outlawed, right?

    If handguns are outlawed only the police will have handguns? Int that what they say?

    Its not making any sense! How do 500 black men get shot or otherwise killed if the ARs are not doing it?

    • John Anderson says:

      Almost every gun crime was committed using a gun that was legally purchased at some time. Either through the use of a straw purchaser or through theft. My guess is that almost all these guns were purchased out of state and brought into Chicago. So an argument can be made that if those guns were never sold in those states, they wouldn’t have been able to be used in Chicago.

      If gang bangers and associates are the ones getting killed, and they’re criminals and since gun control laws don”t prevent criminals from getting guns as stated by the NRA, they should be the safest people in Chicago. So if they have guns and they’re the ones getting killed, how exactly are guns protecting them again?

      • I looked back on the days of the (muni) legislative push for the total gun-ban. It was greatly driven by duly fearful cops and a LOT of very loud parents who were just Fing done with murdered children…and I consider an 18yo and under a “child.” If he/she is any age, they are still someone’s child.

        The Chi Gangs were seemingly deliberate (and still are) in indiscriminate gunfire, aka: “spray and pray.” You spray bullets all over the place and pray it hits someone you don’t like. Nuts-o!!!!

        The total ban was a predicatble move and it HAD to be tried, but they never seem to work wherever its attempted…because clearly, the guns are not gone.

        John A, You cite foreign purchases as a source with a shill-buyer. The Brady Bill and other federal gun laws make that very very difficult. In NH, we have easy gun laws for the purchase, but the federal ones on the books now make it just as tough as anywhere.

        Anti-gunners LOVE to claim that they can drive up from massachusetts and buy a gun at Walmart and drive back with it. The MA Atty General even believed that. I told him I’d give my next month’s paycheck to any charity he wishes, if a Mass resident can prove he can zip to NH and buy a gun.

        I’ve made that offer to many many people, including Mike Barnacle, of the Boston Globe (now NYT I think). But instead of being honest, he ignored it, did not investigate, and perpetuated the big lie.

        But back to ChiTown. The Police can come down like an iron fist on the gangs and find zillions of guns if they launch such a campaign. NYC did it to a grand success.

        So the gun thing isn’t working. In the interim, there’s a Sandy Hook about every week there. They had better do something that actually works, but their political bow to the guns was only window dressing.

        I’m bloody sick of hearing about children’s deaths is a perfectly vibrant major city like that. There’s no reason for it but inept leaders!

  9. @Rob- Chicago, DC, NYC & Detroit have draconian gun control laws and have had them for years…
    Once suicide is taken out of the equation death by controlled guns is a distant second to the violence visited by illegal guns.
    And just for the record Black men aren’t shooting each other in Chicago with assault weapons- so lets explore other platitudes…

    • In 2012, 5,500 guns were turned in during Chicag’s gun turn-in program. The firearms ranged from an M-60 machine gun and sawed-off shotguns to to pen-like “zip” guns that can fire a lethal round, according to CBS. Any gun that can kill should be explored, in my opinion. And last I checked, all of them (minus BB guns) can kill

  10. Now THERE is a city badly in need of strong gun control laws! Does anyone know if they are working on adopting any?

    • I can’t tell whether you’re being sarcastic or not. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re asking an honest question. The irony here is that there are gun control laws in Chicago and other parts of IL. Illinois is the last of the 50 states to prohibit licensed gun owners from carrying weapons in public, and the NRA is constantly targeting this city to let go of it. The problem isn’t legal gun ownership; it’s illegal guns being traded in the city. The Chicago Tribune repeatedly covers this because the gun laws are now pending to be changed.

  11. I’m looking forward to seeing some feedback on this. Coincidentally, on the night of the 30th, 7 clients on my unit were taken out in hand cuffs for mob action, Chicago gang related. I’ve worked at the facility for 15 years and this is the first time this has happen.


  1. […] An increase in gang violence has once again garnered Chicago the title "Murder Capitol of the World."  […]

  2. […] This comment was by WellOkayThen on the post “Why Are So Many Black Males Being Murdered in Chicago?“ […]

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