As Chicago Murder Rate Spikes, Many Fear Violence Has Become Normalized

CHICAGO — The nation’s third-largest city will end 2016 with a surging murder rate, a demoralized and distrusted police force and a weary populace that has become inured to daily reports of shootings.

More than 750 people have been murdered in Chicago in 2016, the police said, a 58 percent increase over last year and the highest total since 1997. There have been more than 3,500 shootings in the city this year.

Over Christmas weekend, at least 60 people were shot, 11 fatally, according to The Chicago Tribune. Two teenage girls were among those shot.

As the year draws to a close, residents and community leaders say they are despairing over the ceaseless violence, which city officials are trying to confront with more police officers and new law enforcement strategies. But many people here also worry that the shootings, primarily in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, have become normalized, a routine part of life.

“We should be embarrassed as a city, every single one of us, that we’ve allowed this city to become the poster boy of violence in America,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, an activist and pastor of a Catholic church on the South Side. “Are we just going to shake our heads and say, ‘What a terrible year in Chicago?’”

Father Pfleger, who often spars with elected officials, said he was searching for fresh ways to draw attention to the plague of gun violence. He is planning a rally on Saturday on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, a downtown avenue lined with high-end shops and restaurants, that will be attended by marchers carrying two-foot-high wooden crosses bearing the names of victims. Some victims’ relatives are expected to attend.

Chicago had more criminal homicides this year than New York and Los Angeles combined, despite having fewer residents than either city. Los Angeles had 288 through mid-December, up slightly from last year, and New York had 325, a decline from 2015. Still, Chicago’s per capita murder rate remains much lower than in several smaller cities, such as St. Louis and Baltimore.

Across the country, some cities have seen upticks in homicides while others have seen their numbers hold steady or decline. St. Louis, which had one of the country’s highest murder rates in 2015, had 183 criminal homicides as of Wednesday, roughly in line with its 188 in 2015. Milwaukee had 142 as of Wednesday and 146 in 2015. Criminal homicides have increased this year in Kansas City, Mo., Indianapolis and Dallas, and have declined in Cincinnati and Baltimore.

In Chicago, the surge in violence has become a national flash point.

“I’ve never seen so much attention and energy and focus being put on this epidemic of violence,” said the Rev. Ira Acree, whose church is on the West Side. “And yet instead of things getting better, it feels like things are getting worse.”

Representative Danny K. Davis, a Democrat whose district includes some of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, said that he believed poverty was fueling the city’s bloodshed, and that Chicago needed to make investments “to revamp whole communities.”

“People struggle, and on top of that, in many instances, people have lost hope in their government,” Mr. Davis said. “They’ve lost hope that something is going to change for them. And if we can’t keep hope alive, then you don’t have to wonder whether things are going to get better or get worse: They’ll get worse.”

Last month, Mr. Davis’s 15-year-old grandson, Javon Wilson, was shot dead at a home in his grandfather’s congressional district. The Chicago police said a fight that preceded the shooting may have been over a pair of shoes, and two other teenagers have been charged in Javon’s death.

Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said in an email that “there is no single solution” to Chicago’s violence, and that Mr. Emanuel was “approaching this holistically.”

“The increase in violence, largely driven by gun crimes in the South and West Sides of the city, is unacceptable, and we’re working day and night to address it,” Mr. McGrath said. “In September, the mayor announced his plan to hire nearly 1,000 new police officers as part of a comprehensive law enforcement reform package designed to restore community trust and increase police effectiveness. At the same time, the mayor strongly believes this is not exclusively a police matter and is committed to making investments in education and citywide economic development — including the expansion of universal mentoring for young men in the most violent neighborhoods.”

Arthur Lurigio, a criminology professor at Loyola University Chicago, said that in addition to the proliferation of guns and deepening poverty, personal disputes among gang members have led to more shootings, often escalating quickly through social media.

“What’s different about this year, and what has added much more fuel to the fire that was already burning intensely, was social media as a way to communicate,” he said. “There are no rules governing gang members anymore. They’re solving interpersonal conflicts with murder.”

The spike in crime comes at a time of upheaval and uncertainty in the Chicago Police Department, with officers trying to tamp down violence while also mending long-strained relationships with residents of some of the most troubled neighborhoods. On Wednesday, the mayor and the police announced that they would speed up a plan to expand body-camera use by police officers, ensuring that every patrol officer would wear a camera by the end of 2017.

Protests and complaints of widespread police misconduct rocked Chicago last year after an officer was charged with murder in the 2014 death of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, and video of the fatal shooting was released. Since then, other police shootings have also prompted protests here, including a teenager fatally shot in the back this summer after a car chase.

Fallout from the McDonald case led to the firing of the police superintendent, promises of new training and equipment, and a Justice Department investigation of Chicago police practices. Some have wondered whether the results of that federal inquiry will be announced before President Obama leaves office next month.

Eddie Johnson, the current Chicago police superintendent, recently spent time at the New York Police Department, studying techniques focused on community policing. He said in a statement that most of the shootings over Christmas weekend were targeted attacks by gang members and called on elected officials in Illinois to pass tougher gun laws.

“While we have promising leads, this unacceptable level of gun violence demonstrates the clear and present need for policy makers to convene in January and give Chicago the gun sentencing tools against repeat offenders so that we can adequately hold people accountable,” he said.

Dean Angelo Sr., president of the union that represents Chicago’s rank-and-file officers, said that department morale was low and that his members were “treading water.” He added that policing and violence had been inappropriately politicized, and that some elected officials were “being more anti-police in their platform as opposed to being anti-crime.”

“In some areas, the neighborhoods are on fire,” he said, “and they’re more worried about transparency and police issues.”

Article Source: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/as-chicago-murder-rate-spikes-many-fear-violence-has-become-normalized/ar-BBxFvso