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Steve Chapman
Steve Chapman
17 Jul 2014
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The Truth About Violence in Chicago

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Living in a city that had 82 shootings over the Fourth of July weekend, Chicagoans could be forgiven for envying the residents of Indianapolis.

Imagine living in a place where homicides have been reduced by more than half in the past two decades, where robberies are less common than they've been in nearly half a century, where car theft is at levels not seen since "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was still in production.

Actually, that's where Chicagoans do live. I was only pretending to talk about Indianapolis. Those developments have all occurred right here.

Right now, the city is getting national as well as local attention for outbreaks of bloodshed, which reinforce its reputation as the murder capital of America. In terms of total homicides, it may be. But that figure fails to account for population.

In the overall rate of violent crime, Chicago ranks 19th — slightly worse than Minneapolis and better than Kansas City, Indianapolis and Nashville. It has half as much violent crime, per capita, as Detroit or Oakland, Calif.

Even when it comes to homicide, Chicago is enjoying, relatively speaking, a golden age. In 1992, it had 943 murders — 2.6 per day. Last year, it had 415 — 1.1 per day. Two decades ago, such progress was the stuff of dreams.

In 2013, the murder rate (homicides per 100,000 residents) was the lowest it had been since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. So far, the homicide total for 2014 is 206, a bit below last year's pace.

Taken as a whole, the city has not gotten more dangerous. It has gotten less dangerous — much less. Nor does it stand out among its peers. "Chicago's overall violent crime rate is not exceptional when compared to other large cities," writes Yale University sociologist Andrew Papachristos in a recent study.

None of this is any comfort to recent victims of crime or to the families of young people who are gunned down in the street. But it's crucial to understanding the nature and size of the problem. High levels of criminal violence are a terrible reality in some neighborhoods, but not in most.

Even in the most dangerous areas, things may be improving.

Papachristos contends that "even in the highest crime communities, crime is going down. ... Nearly all communities in Chicago experienced a decline in murder and overall crime over the past several decades."

That point is not undisputed. Daniel Kay Hertz, a master's student at the University of Chicago's Harris School, calculates that several of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods have gotten worse, not better.

No one doubts that the bulk of the violence is concentrated in particular places. People in most of the city are pretty safe. In the remainder of the city, though, the level of violence is staggering.

What accounts for it? One is the strength and reach of street gangs. In 2012, the Chicago Crime Commission reported that Chicago has more gang members than any city in America. Some 80 percent of murders involve gang members, either as the killer or the killed.

Gangs are as much a symptom of the city's problems as a cause. Chicago has a lot of areas that are almost entirely black — the result of decades of deliberate policies of racial segregation — and largely poor. Jobs are scarce, vacant buildings abound, schools are often inferior, good role models are hard to come by — and crime is a brutal fact of daily life.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in a recent article in The Atlantic, wrote: "Chicago's impoverished black neighborhoods — characterized by high unemployment and households headed by single parents — are not simply poor; they are 'ecologically distinct.'"

Kids trapped in these areas face innumerable hurdles to success, omnipresent dangers to life and limb, and constant pressures to become part of the criminal class. So the tangle of pathology, as it has been called, tends to be self-perpetuating.

No one has come up with a way to untangle it that is practically plausible and politically salable. More police would help. So would ending the drug war. Better schools hold some promise. Economic development is indispensable. Neglect will only make things worse.

Judged as a whole, Chicago is doing a lot of things right. Judged by the plight of its least fortunate, that's not nearly enough.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman. To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Comments

3 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... It is common to reason in specifics, but to feel in gross... It is the sheer numbers and not the statistical signicances that has people up in arms, but at least they can still feel even if they feel apalled...
Stalin talked about how impossible it is to conceive of death... He said something like: the death of one is a tragedy... The death of ten thousand is a statistic... I expect such words from the autocrat of bureaucrats... But look at what the Jews say when they bomb some apartment building full of women and children... It's a tragedy... People screw with the language to suit their purposes constantly, but isn't a crime a crime, and a tragedy and tragedy??? We cannot grasp death on a large scale... Most of us have lost people close, people we may miss forever, people we loved whose loss leave a hole in our hearts... We can relate to single deaths because that is all we can ever endure...Only psychopaths who are so common in government and business, and not common enough in prison can conceive of mass murder, assembly line death, death by decree or bureaucracy...Certainly the random quality of this violence, that it is no near, so much the thief in the night is that which most strikes terror in our souls...
For those on the right who believe they could run America better, who believe and preach violence, there is the lesson here, plain and clear, that the poor of this land are as angry as the middle class, and just as willing to kill to prove it...The idea that these are our friends, our neighbors, and our countrymen does not slow the draw... Where have we not resisted in emulation of the rich the desire to exploit to the limit everyone we could manage??? Does it matter that in our exploitation and injustice that we were making some one more animal and less divine being???
It is legal, and that is all that concerns most of us... Slavery was once legal too, and all the crimes including murder that flowed out of that legal crime... No one asked the master if he raped his women, or if he sold his own children into a deadly servitude... That was his business... The business of America if it is injustice is death...
Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Jul 20, 2014 9:19 PM
Sir;... I have to wonder how many of the so called liberal press service the prejudice of the right with tales of all that black on black violence... If they want to see violence, the grand championship match of violence; why not look at all of the violence done on the right to the truth... All immorality, all injustice, and all actual violence flows from the destruction of the truth as reliable fact... A hundred years ago or more, the nonsense the right feeds itself about black people who they only seldom know was modern, but now it is simply ignorance passed by the ignorant as god's own truth...
Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Jul 21, 2014 6:56 AM
I LIVED IN CHICAGO IN THE 50'S AND TRAVELED ON A MOTORCYCLE THROUGHOUT THE BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD ON THE SOUTH SIDE WITHOUT ANY PROBLEMS . WHAT HAS CHANGED IS THE BREAKDOWN OF THE FAMILY AND YOUNG MEN SEEKING A SENSE OF FAMILY IN GANGS ALONG WITH A DECLINE IN CULTURE MAKING VIOLENCE MORE ACCEPTABLE. THE NUMBERS YOU SITE SHOULD BE COMPARED TO EUROPE AND JAPAN . ALL OF JAPAN HAS FEWER HOMICIDES THAN CHICAGO. THERE IS NO WAY TO MAKE A SILK PURSE OUT OF THIS SOW'S EAR . WE HAVE A LACK OF EFFECTIVE AUTHORITY AND A BUNCH OF BANDITS RUNNING MANY OF OUR GOVERNMENTAL INSTITUTIONS. THESE TYPE OF CITIES SUCH AS CHICAGO SHOULD SHAME THE NATION AND CITING A DROP IN CRIME WHEN THE NATION IS STILL CRIME RIDDEN GETS US NOWHERE. ONE CITY BUILT A TAJMAHAL HIGH SCHOOL WITH BIG INCREASES IN TAXES WITH NO IMPROVEMENT IN MINORITY SCORES.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Daniel Johnson
Mon Jul 21, 2014 6:48 PM
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