The homicide rate in Chicago has jumped in the past month, and the city is grappling with how best to respond.
At least two weekends in a row have been marred by multiple killings. For many Chicagoans, the breaking point was last Wednesday, when a 20-month-old girl was shot in the head while in a parked car on the South Side. The alleged gunman, who turned himself in, was reportedly aiming for the girl’s father.
As of last Sunday, Chicago tallied 113 homicides for 2010, compared with 101 for the same period last year.
The city’s mayor, state lawmakers, and the Chicago Police Department, among others, are weighing in on what should – and shouldn’t – be done.
On Sunday, state Reps. John Fritchey and LaShawn Ford, both Democrats, suggested that the National Guard should be dispatched to curb the recent rise in violence. They made the proposal to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D).
On Monday, both the governor and Richard M. Daley, Chicago’s mayor, dismissed the suggestion.
“The notion of trying to step in, in any way ... on the toes of people who are on the front line every day fighting crime in tough neighborhoods, I think is really not the way to go,” Governor Quinn said.
Mayor Daley argued that the National Guard does not have the appropriate resources and skills to fight street gangs.
Instead the solution, Daley says, is to continue pressing state and federal courts to tighten restrictions on gun ownership – and to uphold the city’s ban on handguns and assault weapons.
“This is all about guns, and that’s why the crusade is on,” he said at a press conference Monday.
Last month, Daley pressed the state legislature to pass a package that, among other things, would strengthen penalties for unlawful gun sales and ownership and require semiautomatic weapons to be stamped with more sophisticated tracking technology. The package is still pending.
Daley is also asking Congress to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004.
But he is hardly unopposed in his gun-control efforts: Four Chicago residents, led by pro-gun groups including the Illinois State Rifle Association, are suing to overturn Chicago’s handgun ban. The case is under consideration at the US Supreme Court, and a decision is expected by the end of June.
Two years ago, the high court struck down a similar ban in Washington, D.C.
As Chicago’s homicide rate has gone up in the past month, the Chicago Police Department has been on the defensive.
After the shooting of the 20-month-old girl, Chicago police superintendent Jody Weis said it was “clearly unacceptable,” but he added that the rise in homicides is not endemic to the city. Rather, he said, it’s concentrated in less than 9 percent of all city blocks.
Mr. Weis also announced a special crime-fighting initiative for the spring and summer, which includes forming strategic teams to respond to “hot spots.” He also plans to adjust the shifts and staffing levels of officers to correspond to the times of day when violent crimes typically peak.
Moreover, Weis is asking for 100 volunteer officers to form a special group that could be immediately deployed to work on intelligence leads.
“We will not allow gangbangers, drug dealers, and other criminals to take over parts of our city,” he said in a statement. “The mayor won't allow it. I won't allow it. And the Chicago Police Department won't allow it.”
City and police officials emphasize that Chicago’s homicide rate is, in fact, trending down from recent years. According to police data, homicides ebbed and flowed in the years between 1999 and 2009, but in total they’ve dropped almost 15 percent.
But in comparison with other major cities, Chicago has an elevated murder total. For instance, in 2009, Chicago recorded 458 homicides and New York City 471 – when New York’s population is nearly three times as large as Chicago’s.