I wrote this a while back and even made a video on it. I figure enough time has passed to put up the article version.
Because of the constant usage of Chicago and the murder rates reported, I have done some research and wish to bring light to the events in Chicago. Donald Trump tweeted about it, but like a typical toddler, his attention is now focused on something shiny and so it is up to us citizens and immigrants to keep the story going.
Several people requested that I look into the data regarding violence, murder, and chaos in Chicago. According to them and many other sources, 2016 is considered the bloodiest year in Chicago in anyone’s memory, and they were wondering what might have been the cause of this.
Some quick facts before I start to establish context. I will be linking many articles below for you to view at your leisure on the facts, statistics, and data available.
- Chicago is the third largest city in the United states.
- From January 1st to June 1st of 2016, there were 316 homicides in Chicago. No other city in the US broke the 300 mark.
- New York, which is the largest city in the United States, with a population three times as big as Chicago, only had 161 homicides during the same time period.
- Looking at the raw data, the numbers look horrifying, especially since by the end of 2016 Chicago had recorded over 762 homicides, with the Chicago Tribune marking the number at 784, which was up 57% from the previous year. Add that to the recorded incidence involving shootings and deaths, which tallied around 3,550, it could look like Chicago is an all out warzone.
- The bulk of the incidents occurred in only five of the cities 22 police districts, specifically on the south and west sides. Those areas are predominantly black areas, all listed as “poor”, and are known to be areas where gangs are most active. If we look at just the sheer number of victims, no other city even comes close. Pretty much everyone who was killed in Chicago in 2016, approximately 93%, was shot to death.
- On a per capita basis though, which is generally x per 100,000 people, the shooting epidemic in Chicago is not quite as severe as the violence in many of the other large cities in the United States.
Quoting from The Trace, “The absolute numbers are helpful putting it in a context that people understand, but with the rates, you get the true scope of the problem in the way it impacts people’s lives,” John Pfaff, a professor of law at Fordham Law School, told The Trace. “People don’t care about the absolute numbers, they care about their risk, and the rates tell that risk.”
Chicago’s homicide rate over the last five years was 16.4 per 100,000 residents. In St. Louis and New Orleans, the homicide rate from 2010 to 2015 was three times as high, on average.
I will link the rest of the article from the Trace at the end of the post.
But these numbers do not answer the question of why Chicago is seeing the surge in violence, nor does it answer why people are viewing 2016 as the bloodiest year in memory. Facts and figures are great for a starting point, but now we must delve into the the why of it all.
I have spent several hours going through newspapers ranging from far left leaning to far right leaning, as well as the FBI crime databases and the public database provided by the Chicago police to try to figure out what could be causing this spike.
So what were my conclusions after all of our research? While gang violence does appear to be a major contributor, as does poverty and racial segregation…there is something more going on here. It’s almost like Chicago has become a perfect example of what happens when many different reasons converge into one large area. Almost like how rape culture doesn’t exist all at once in the real world, but we see pieces of it that all add up to what is rape culture…here we see all of the pieces that add up to our culture of violence sitting neatly in one city.
I found a well produced piece by NPR’s “All Things Considered” that offers a lot of insight and thought as to the why behind the crime spike, and we recommend that you either read the transcript, or listen to the audio file. They are provided below in the description. The guests offer opinions of segregation, children with nothing to do, fetal alcohol exposure, lack of faith based communities, poverty, the drug trade, and many other reasons.
Reverend Jesse Jackson was the main speaker on the piece and he stated that the problem is both social and political. In his own words, “It encumbers on racial disparities which should be abhorrent and is, in fact, illegal. You look at the impact of poverty. People who often have fewer aspirations, they think they can’t make it, their spirits are broken, they are perplexed.”
Another issue is that people, especially in the government are treating Chicago as if it is its own entity and not part of a larger state or country. Budget cuts mean less money for those in need or for services, which can lead to fewer people being able to find or get to work, leading to those people becoming unemployed and having to find some way to make money…even if it means using violence. The Reverend Jesse Jackson refers to the impact of poverty as a weapon of mass destruction, and brings up racial and gender disparities as adding to the larger issue of crime and violence.
He states that people are crying out for help, but are not being heard. This is concerning, because as one can see throughout history, when those on the bottom cry out for help but are ignored, it is only a matter of time before things can turn violent. They try to get attention through peace, but when that doesn’t’ work, they turn to what does bring attention…violence. It’s problematic though, because it doesn’t bring the right type of attention needed to fix the problem, and often just makes the problem worse.
As I stated earlier, most of the violence is happening in the south and west areas of the city, and those tend to be the most impoverished and gang ridden areas of the city. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Two of the city’s historically most violent police districts — Harrison and Englewood — account for fully one-fourth of the homicides and shooting incidents.”
There is no one answer to what is driving the violence. From all of the sources I have read, however, some main causes keep popping up.
and Race issues
Another issue that for a while added to the problem was an agreement that the police in Chicago had made with the ACLU. The agreement was that the police would record contact cards for all street stops, since the ACLU had claimed the police had been disproportionately targeting minorities for their questioning and searches.
Apparently the police didn’t like the new forms and complained that they were too time consuming to fill out. After new forms were made that were a simplified version of the original form, police began to notice that there was some progress in slowing the pace of the rising violence. The rise was still there, but it was down to 29% in March as opposed to 75% in January and 126% in February.
The police play into another issue regarding crime rates in Chicago, and that has to do with the lack of trust communities have towards those who are supposed to uphold the law. Distrust in authority can lead to people attempting to take matters of justice into their own hands, especially if the authorities have been shown to be racially biased or even violent towards minorities.
While I wish I could have found the silver bullet for the reason behind the rise in violence in Chicago, I do feel confident that my results at least can help shed light on a very real and frightening problem here in the United States. Guns do play a major role in the violence being carried out, and while sensible gun laws would help in many ways, I have seen the pushback that occurs when people think that someone might be stepping on their second amendment rights.
Guns play a major role, as do gang violence, poverty, and racial tension. The lack of trust in the police and the general anger towards how the police are essentially protecting the corrupt members of the force over the people the corrupt cops are victimizing adds to the tension.
To me, it’s horrifying and absolutely insane how common gun violence is here, and I’m speaking as someone who learned how to use a gun before I was eight. While researching this topic, I was thrown face first into just how bad it can be here in the United States when it comes to gun violence. I am not sure exactly what can be done to fix the problems in Chicago, but I do agree with The Reverend Jesse Jackson that we need to bring national attention to the problem. We do so when it comes to mass shootings, or violent murders elsewhere in the country, but when it comes to Chicago…oh well, just another day am I right?
The problem is only going to get worse if things aren’t fixed, and because of how many causes there are for this problem, it will take much more than a band aid to fix the issue. I suggest that those of you with followers on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and elsewhere work to raise awareness of this issue. Bring it into the light, make it visible. Put aside your differences with people and even if it’s just for a short time, work towards raising awareness of this problem before it gets worse. Together we can work to fix a problem that alone we could not.
“Chicago Isn’t Even Close to Being the Gun Violence Capital of the United States”
“NPR: Examining The Reasons For Chicago’s Violence”
Articles and data used in my research:
“Chicago’s murder rate soars 72% in 2016; shootings up more than 88%”
“How Violence in Chicago Compares to Other Cities”
“Chicago records 762 homicides in 2016, up 57 percent from previous year”
“Chicago saw more 2016 murders than NYC, LA combined”
Chicago Police Department ClearMap Crime Summary
“10 shootings a day: Complex causes of Chicago’s spiking violence”
“Editorial: What’s behind Chicago’s surge in violence?”
“Why Crime Is So High in Certain Chicago Neighborhoods”
“Chicago’s Murder Problem”
“Why 2016 Has Been Chicago’s Bloodiest Year in Almost Two Decades”