Chicago was ablaze with gunfire again this weekend and as of Sunday morning, five people were dead in a single house and another fifteen were in various hospitals with wounds. There’s a good chance that the Windy City will rack up more than 800 gun deaths in 2016, almost double the number of gun murders in 2015, which was a 12% increase from the year before. The city is looking at the newly-issued report of a taskforce that is calling for new measures to deal with the violence; you know, another taskforce, got it?
Last year I looked at the map of shootings for Chicago that is carried in The Tribune, and noticed that some neighborhoods, particularly parts of the South and West Sides, appeared overwhelmed with gun violence, whereas other areas of the city seemed to have little or no gun violence at all. But the map for 2016 is different because although gun violence is still concentrated in neighborhoods like Austin in the West and New City in the South, shootings occur in every neighborhood, even in places like Rogers Park. I lived in Rogers Park in the 1970s and forget about violence or crime, our apartment on Greenleaf Avenue didn’t even have a front-door lock. This year there have been 25 shootings in Rogers Park, although that’s an improvement because shootings numbered 40 in 2014.
Doing a quick calculation brings the murder rate in Chicago (per 100,000 residents) to just around 30, give or take a few. The national gun homicide rate is around 3.5 per 100,000, in other words, one-tenth of what’s going on in Chicago these days, no wonder the weekend shooting deaths of five people in one house made the national news. Incidentally, I just went back to the browser and the city’s shooting toll since Friday afternoon has been upped to 9 dead and 26 wounded with most of Sunday still to be gotten through.
So what makes this city such a human shooting gallery with no end in sight? It’s almost like you could walk down any street in the Second City and a bullet might go whizzing overhead. Except the fact is that Chicago, compared to some other places, isn’t so dangerous after all. St. Louis this year has a murder rate of 61, New Orleans is 46, Newark is 39. I don’t know how many of these murders were committed with guns, but if the usual 70% average for guns used in homicides holds true in these towns, then all of them, and some others, rank well ahead of Chicago when it comes to the number of residents who are being gunned down.
If the gun-violence problem in Chicago was just related to Chicago, we could probably come up with some quick and easy reasons why such an exceptional situation existed in only this one place. But gun violence, more particularly the increase in gun violence, isn’t just a Chicago problem at all. It seems to be occurring in many places, and I am not sure that this generalized increase in gun violence is only found in high-density, inner-city neighborhoods. The FBI says that the murder rate is lowest in cities with less than 100,000 residents, but the town of Mangonia Park, FL (which has a great waterslide) registered two murders in 2015 which gave this place a murder rate per 100,000 of 151! When a homicide occurs in a place like Mangonia Park it never makes the national news, but there are little towns (what the FBI calls ‘tiny cities’) all over the place and violent crimes, shooting crimes, take place in these spots as well.
Violent crime and, in particular gun violence dropped steeply in the 1990s and 2000s but levelled off but let’s stop patting ourselves on the back and pretending that we’ve got the problem under control. As the accuracy of gun-violence reporting gets more accurate, it’s clear the numbers are moving up. And they are moving up everywhere, not just in the city on the lake.