In light of January’s shooting deaths of four people in Aurora, Colorado – reminding all of the July 20 killing of twelve (and injuring of 58) in Aurora, as well as the December 14 slaughter of 26 in Connecticut – it is sobering to realize that our Chicago area is (regrettably) the “murder capital” of the world. http://www.examiner.com/article/cook-county-to-tax-sin-and-death Chicago has the highest murder rate of any global city of its size, at 19.4 per 100,000. The nearest competitor (San Paulo, Brazil) reported a rate of just 15.6.
Looking back at the entire 2012 year, Chicago had 506 murders, the highest since 2008 (when 512 murders were reported). This uncontrolled violence not only endangers all residents, workers, shoppers, and tourists – it also greatly diminishes the world’s opinion of Chicago as a place to visit and/or do business. Every time I have traveled abroad and been asked where I am “from” – my answer has invariably led to a response that includes (variously) at least one of these descriptive words: Al Capone, murder, or crime.
Every year, we hear and read about multiple efforts to “turn the tide” and dramatically reduce murders; but those efforts are clearly making little headway. Is “turning the tide” even possible here? We cannot afford to lose hope or stop trying.
There have been hopeful signs of progress in New York City. In 1990, the city reported 2,245 homicides; but in extremely sharp contrast, during 2012 New York City suffered just 418 murders. That was a record low (note: 1963 was the first year that reliable records started being kept). Since New York has a population triple that of Chicago, it means that Chicago’s murder rate is well over three times that of New York City.
The New York Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, attributes the steep decline in homicides primarily to increasing utilization of “stop and frisk” – when police stop and search those on the street whom they consider “suspicious”. However, the use of that police tactic has been extremely controversial, and is currently the focus of a federal court case regarding its constitutionality. Whatever the future verdict is on that case, Kelly asserts: “We’re preventing crimes before someone is killed and before someone else has to go to prison for murder or some other serious crimes.”
In Chicago, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy attributes the growing murder rate to gang violence – a claim corroborated by crime statistics. Eighty percent of all homicides have been classified as “gang related". McCarthy and several other officials point to a significant “splintering” within Chicago’s “traditional” gangs, leading to the rise of newer factions and cliques that are all battling for control of certain sections (“turf”) of Chicago’s south and west sides. A major tactic used in these inter-group struggles is firepower.
That is the other major contributor to Chicago’s epidemic of murders. McCarthy reports that Chicago faces a larger illicit gun trafficking problem that either New York or Los Angeles: “In the first six months of the year, we seized three guns for every gun in L.A. and nine guns for every gun confiscated by the New York Police Department… When people ask me, ‘What’s different about Chicago?’ that’s one of the things I tell them. We have a proliferation of illegal firearms.”
The final tragedy apparent in this epidemic of violence is the disproportionate price paid by Chicago’s African American community. While they constitute only 33% of the city’s population, 80% of murder victims are African American – including countless innocent children and senior citizens who are caught “in the crossfire”. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/29/chicago-homicide-rate-new-york_n_2378073.html