This Fourth of July weekend saw joy, laughter, fellowship and fun. It also saw another rash of murders in the streets of Chicago.
The 3-day weekend starting on the 4th saw eight murders in Chicago. Two more have already been reported for today.
While this weekend was slightly more violent than others, it is definitely not an aberration. Easter weekend this year saw 45 separate shootings in Chicago. The weekend before that, there were 35 shootings in 36 hours.
In recent years, Chicago’s violence has the nickname “Chiraq”. Since the start of this year, the city has has seen 196 murders. That’s more than four times as many American fatalities as the 46 so far in Afghanistan and Iraq this year.
The homicides this weekend were a result of multiple shootings at Independence Day celebrations around the city which left another 60 people injured.
Murder totals in Chicago actually peaked at 943 in 1992, and steadily declined in the decade that followed. But that number spiked again in 2012, which saw 521 murders. The majority of these murders were related to gang activity and the increasingly lucrative drug trade in Chicago.
To combat the rise in violence, Chicago dispatched hundreds of extra police into particularly dangerous neighborhoods, and reached out to community leaders for support.
“We will keep building on our strategy, putting more officers on the street in summer months, proactively intervening in gang conflicts, partnering with community leaders,”
said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a recent statement.
It seems to be working. Last year, Chicago tallied 415 murders, the lowest that number has been since 1965. And as of June 30, Chicago had experienced nine fewer homicides than in that same period last year.
But these rates are still much higher than most cities. By comparison, New York City (which has three times more residents than Chicago) only had 350 murders in 2013.
So why is the murder rate so high? Many people would point to high rates of poverty, but Chicago actually has lower poverty rates than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
Poor schools also play a major part in the crime, but Chicago actually has a higher percentage of high school graduates over the age of 25 than New York City, Los Angeles or Houston.
There is no one reason for the violence in Chicago, but there are a few other major factors that have contributed to it. One of these factors is depopulation and gang fragmentation.
In the 80s and early 90s, the majority of the homicides in Chicago centered around low-income government-subsidized housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes.
Starting in the late 90s, the city carried out an aggressive campaign to demolish these high-rises as part of a plan to reduce crime. However, this just displaced tens of thousands of residents, exacerbating the issues of poverty they faced while simply spreading the criminals who had been sharing the buildings with them out to new neighborhoods.
The demolition of these centralized crime hubs has also led to a fragmentation of the gangs in Chicago. During the early 90s, much of the drug trade was controlled by Larry Hoover, who was head of the Gangster’s Disciples street gang.
This gang (which controlled a number of Chicago’s subsidized high-rises) was no stranger to violence, but it also had a very strict hierarchy that maintained unity and order amongst its gang members.
The arrest of drug lords like Hoover and the destruction of their headquarters created a power vacuum that broke Chicago’s gangs into countless smaller “sets”, which now battle amongst themselves for turf, power and money.
But maybe the biggest reason for Chicago’s high crime rates is the lack of jobs. Despite the fact that Chicago has higher levels of education than other large cities like New York, Houston and Los Angeles, it still has a much higher rate of unemployment (13.7%) than these other cities.
The gang violence exacerbates this problem by driving potential employers out of the inner cities, leaving only a handful of low-paying jobs to the residents who remain. This de-population also reduces property values which in turn further limits the public funds (ie. taxes) available to help fight crime and improve conditions.
Whatever the reasons are, the reality is inarguable: Chicago has a serious violence problem, and the fact that it doesn’t get the media airtime that Iraq, Al Qaeda ad ISIS do won’t change the fact that for every soldier we have lost overseas this year, we’ve lost another four youth in Chicago.