Why is Chicago exploding in so much gun violence—and why hasn’t there been more national attention focused on the problem?
That was the intriguing premise of a roundtable the Huffington Post brought together to dig into the problem of the Chicago murder rate. Chicago-based journalists and activists were asked to address the question of what’s going on in the Windy City.
For some perspective, the host Marc Lamont Hill threw out some statistics that put a sobering spin on the conversation: Since 2001, about 2,000 American service men and women have died in Afghanistan; in that same time period, 5,000 people have died in Chicago.
Yet the nation doesn’t appear to even realize how bad thing have gotten in Chicago—at the same time as the murder rate has fallen precipitously in other big cities like New York and Los Angeles. And the numbers continue to go up. As of the end of July, homicides in the city were up about 27 percent and in the first quarter of 2012 the number of murders had jumped 60 percent over 2011.
As Hill pointed out, most of those being killed are young African-American males—who are also most of those doing the killing.
Father Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest who lives and works in the community, said that fractured gangs and a sense of hopelessness among community residents can be blamed for much of the violence. Neighborhoods and schools have been broken up, sending the gang members to new and unfamiliar parts of the city—where they often clash with the gang members who already were there.
“In the neighborhood I live in, there’s high unemployment and I have 7 public schools around me that are all low-performing schools,” Pfleger said. “We have in this community more guns than we have computers. There’s a code of silence, a breakdown in the relationship with the police and community. And people have become immune, This is something we got to live with, gunshots and helicopters every night.”
Kathy Chaney, a reporter for the Chicago Defender, said things have gotten so out of control that “I’m fearful to walk down the street.”
Rosa Clemente, an activist based in Amherst, Massachusetts, said that America is a violent nation—one of the most violent in the world—and what’s happening in Chicago is a reflection of that. In addition, she said, “we have underemployment, over incarceration, and too many police view us as inhuman and dispensable…We need to look at how the guns are getting into our comunities. Do we have factories? Are we making the guns. We need to look at how young people have lost hope in their elders and politicians. Violence in this country is often rewarded—just not with these young people.”
But Pete Nickeas, crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, said that we need to keep the numbers in perspective. He said the violence was actually worse 10 years ago, but it looks bad now because it’s been going up while other cities are going down.
Nickeas said that while the fracturing of the gangs sent the violence into neighborhoods that didn’t have it before, there has also been a significant reduction in the size of the police force, which has reduced the force’s ability to continuously patrol the neighborhoods.
“They moved those cops out to the districts,” he said.