MEMBERS of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) have “no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of colour.” So says a report published on April 13th by the police accountability task force appointed by Rahm Emanuel, the city’s mayor. “The community’s lack of trust in CPD is justified. There is substantial evidence that people of colour— particularly African-Americans—have had disproportionately negative experiences with the police over an extended period of time.” The 190-page report is highly critical of what is describes as a code of silence among individual police officers and the police force as a whole. It also calls for the replacement of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which investigates police shootings and serious misconduct and is widely seen as biased towards the police.
Chicago’s deadly, gun-fueled holiday weekend was only marginally worse than last year’s deadly, gun-fueled holiday weekend.
Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in Chicago, 82 people were shot in an 84-hour window, according to the Chicago Tribune. Fourteen were dead by Monday morning, including two boys, aged 14 and 16, who were killed by police in separate incidents when they allegedly refused to drop their guns. Things were so chaotic Sunday night that officers responding to the spasm of violence reportedly kept interrupting one another on their radios to report still newer bursts of gunfire. The string of shootings garnered national media attention and prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to plead with residents on Monday to put down their guns. “Wherever you are, wherever you live, the gun violence that was part of this weekend is totally unacceptable,” Emanuel told a gathering of concerned citizens on the city’s South Side, where many of the shootings took place.
How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory narratives? On the one had, the stats suggest that violent crime is falling in Chicago; on the other, the Windy City remains riddled by gang-related violence. The Fourth’s bloody toll wasn’t even unusual. Just last year, more than 70 people were shot, 13 of whom were killed, during the same four-day stretch. Things were slightly better in 2012, with at least 8 people killed. All told, if you tally the homicides in Chicago over the Thursday-to-Sunday window closest to July 4, this year’s long weekend was the eighth since 2002 to see double-digit murders, according to the city’s own statistics.
The sad reality is that by the time July 4, 2015, rolls around, we will have largely forgotten this past weekend’s violence. We’ve already done so for last year’s Independence Day. The fact that this past holiday weekend was only marginally worse than last year’s was a detail largely missing from much of the coverage this week. Even the Tribune, which provided by far the most detailed coverage of the shootings in real time, failed to mention the comparison in itsonline report on Monday and made only a passing, vague reference to it in its otherwise-comprehensive front-page follow-up the next day. Likewise, few reports bothered to mention a similar string of shootings less than three months ago that left 9 dead and 36 others injured over Easter weekend.
The media might have a short memory when it comes to Chicago violence, but the city’s Police Department appears to go to great lengths to willfully forget. Chicago magazine published a two-part investigation this year that detailed how the department appeared to be using pretty much every trick in the CompStat book to artificially deflate the city’s homicide and violent crime numbers. The reporters, David Bernstein and Noah Isackson, were able to identify 10 people “who were beaten, burned, suffocated, or shot to death in 2013 and whose cases were reclassified as death investigations, downgraded to more minor crimes, or even closed as noncriminal incidents—all for illogical or, at best, unclear reasons.” Given more time and better access, the article implies, the two reporters could have found plenty more examples of what would be considered murders by everyone but the police. The magazine’s investigation likewise documented that the police used similar tricks to depress the city’s larger violent crime rate.
McCarthy has brushed off those allegations as “absolute nonsense,” butChicago magazine isn’t alone in making them. A recent audit from the city’s inspector general that focused on assault-related incidents found that police were counting crimes with multiple victims as a single offense, an accounting trick that led to an underreporting of victims by 24 percent in the sample studied. That means a shooting that left a half-dozen people injured—as several did this past weekend—might register in the police books as a single shooting incident. Put another way, recent history suggests that there’s a realistic chance that by this time next year, the dead and injured from this past July Fourth won’t be fully counted in Chicago’s official crime statistics.
Even if a portion of the recent drop in crime numbers is due to a statistical sleight of hand, most observers agree that violent crime is indeed falling in the Chicago, as it is in most major cities. But the overall numbers obscure the fact that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and much of the violence has been sequestered in poor, predominantly black areas of the city where gang violence goes largely unnoticed unless it comes in bunches, as it did this past weekend. After crunching the homicide numbers for 2000 through 2010, Yale University sociologist Andrew Papachristos found that the murder rate was about 3.1 per 100,000 residents living in the Northwest side’s Jefferson Park. Less than 10 miles away in West Garfield Park, the rate was more than 20 times that, a staggering 64 per 100,000, or roughly in line with the casualty rate for civilians in Iraq at the height of the last war. When people describe parts of Chicago as urban war zones, it is not hyperbole.
Seven aldermen on the City Council have called for an investigation into how the Police Department keeps its books, and an ACLU lawsuit against the city on behalf of a West Side community group claiming that the city doesn’t deploy police equitably across neighborhoods continues to wind its way through court.
Meanwhile, the violence continues. On Tuesday, the day after Emanuel spoke on the South Side, two more people died from gunshot wounds suffered over the weekend, and at least 11 more people were shot, including a 23-year-old riding his bike and a 17-year-old boy who was walking through a park with a group of friends. The teen was set to start college orientation on Thursday. Both died at the respective scenes.
Chicago has suffered terrible bloodshed, including the November killing of an 18-year-old at a party
A US judge has struck down Chicago’s ban on sales and transfers of firearms, finding the city went too far in its effort to prevent legal sales of guns.
Judge Edmond Chang ruled the ban was unconstitutional, but allowed it to stand while the city appealed.
The judge also said in his ruling that there was little evidence the ban was effective in reducing gun violence.
Chicago has been plagued by gang violence, and has some of the strictest gun laws in the US.
City officials say the effectiveness of the ban on gun sales has been diminished by lax gun laws in the state of Illinois and in surrounding states.
Roderick Drew, a spokesman for Chicago’s law department, said Mayor Rahm Emanuel disagreed with the ruling.
In May 2012 Lino Diaz became one of the 506 people killed in Chicago that year
Mr Emanuel has told the city’s lawyer to consider other options to regulate firearms sales strictly, he added.
“Every year Chicago police recover more illegal guns than officers in any city in the country, a factor of lax federal laws as well as lax laws in Illinois and surrounding states,” Mr Drew said told the Associated Press.
“We need stronger gun safety laws, not increased access to firearms within the city.”
Gun rights advocates hailed the ruling.
The judge’s decision “shows how out of step and outrageous Chicago’s ordinances really are”, said Todd Vandermyde of the National Rifle Association, a powerful gun lobby group.
A lawsuit against the ban was originally filed by the Illinois Association of Firearms Retailers and three Chicago residents.
One of those residents, antique gun collector Kenneth Pacholski, said the ban was unreasonable.
“All the people I know who own guns legally are really careful,” said Mr Pacholski, whose wife also sued.
“I’m a collector. My guns are not going anywhere unless I know where they’re going because I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s death.”
Last year, a US appeals court struck down the state of Illinois’s blanket ban on carrying concealed firearms, the last in the US. And in 2010, the US Supreme Court struck down the city’s ban on owning firearms.
Chicago has struggled to turn the tide of gun violence for several years, ending 2013 with more than 400 homicides. Shootings are common in the city’s South and West Sides and children as young as six-months-old have been caught in the crossfire.
Can a movement that calls for more guns in the US be effective at saving lives?