Chicago gun violence: The numbers shock, but the reasons are familiar

In Chicago's highest concentration of gun violence this year, 14 people were killed and 68 wounded over the holiday weekend. Policing, gun laws, and poverty were all cited.

M. Spencer Green/AP
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy speaks at a news conference Monday, July 7, 2014, in Chicago. McCarthy spoke about the dozens of shootings that left at least nine people dead and dozens more wounded, including eight incidents in which police shot at offenders or were shot at by offenders during the long Fourth of July weekend. Police displayed some of the nearly 3,400 illegal firearms the have confiscated so far this year in their battle against gun violence.

Gun violence erupted in Chicago over the holiday weekend, with 14 people killed and another 68 wounded from Thursday afternoon to early Monday. Two of the fatal shootings were by Chicago police.

It was the city’s highest concentration of gun violence this year, but in its wake it was ascribed to familiar suspected causes, depending on the source: inadequate policing, lax gun laws, and lack of economic opportunity.

Most of the Chicago shootings took place in areas plagued by school closings and systemic losses in manufacturing jobs: Englewood, Roseland, Gresham, and West Pullman. Most of the fatalities were teenage boys or young adult men.

In gun violence over the Fourth of July weekend last year, 11 people were killed and 62 wounded.

While over the long term gun violence in Chicago is declining, the high-profile street violence is a political liability for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who on Monday released a statement calling the number of shootings and murders “simply unacceptable.”

In 2012, his first year in office, homicides in the city spiked past 500, creating both national headlines and pushback from critics citing budget cuts to the police force and school closings as endemic to the growing problem.

“The solution does not just include policing – although we’ll continue to look for ways to put more police where they’re needed,” Mayor Emanuel said in his statement Monday. “We also have to give our young people alternatives to the street, and as a community we need to demand more of ourselves and our neighbors.”

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters Monday that the highest concentration of shootings took place between early Sunday afternoon and early Monday morning. Four people were killed and 26 others were wounded in that 13-hour stretch.

“Thursday, Friday, Saturday, they were very, very busy, but we were winning. Yesterday was the day that really blew it up for us over the weekend,” Superintendent McCarthy said.

Despite the headlines, gun violence in Chicago has been declining for years. Most crime experts say sudden spikes in shootings are not indicative of any single problem, but that violence is best understood when examined over a wider time frame. Total homicides in Chicago are actually down six percent from last year: 185 homicides to date, compared with 196 in 2013.

In two separate incidents, Chicago police wounded five people and killed two teenagers that they said pointed weapons at them. A police spokesman told the Chicago Sun-Times he would not speak to the specifics of shootings but placed blame on “too many illegal weapons on our streets.”

According to the Independent Police Review Authority, an average of 53 people a year were shot by police between 2009 and 2013, or a little more than one a week. “Five shootings in two days is not normal,” spokesman Larry Merritt said.

While the police and City Hall continue to blame lax state and federal gun laws, criminal justice advocates say that the problems in Chicago are more fundamental: The proliferation of poverty and lack of jobs.

“When the violence is out of control, they put out a new policing program every two weeks. I literally have lost track of all the different initiatives that they are doing,” says Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, an advocacy organization, and a criminologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Instead, Mr. Siska says that the solution requires City Hall to make a deeper commitment to revive neighborhoods that have long been marginalized by the exodus of manufacturing plants.

“You are not getting a guy out of a gang until you bring him a job. They have got to find jobs,” he says. “A lot of these [social] programs probably have a small impact, and are probably worth doing, but in the long term, there needs to be sustainable employment for these guys.”

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