Chicago Nowhere Near U.S. ‘Murder Capital’
This past winter we witnessed some brutal below zero frigid temperatures so why would the Black doorman of my building always comment that he loved the cold? As it turns out it’s because it keeps the violence in check according to his experience. It disturbed me at first as one back home in Chicago after 17 years spent living on the west coast. I was missing the daily doses of sunshine and warm ocean breezes. I resented the talk back then from my L.A. friends who referenced what seemed at the time a never ending spree of Black on Black crime. Then there would be the continuous Facebook postings–my Chicago friends discussing the onslaught of senseless murders. And of course there is the moniker Chiraq soon to be a film titled Chi-Raq by Spike Lee.
Is it true that my beloved city Chicago had become the American city with the highest crime rate? Why? Chicago the city that works, stopped working. And when people are desperate they do desperate things. Employed people shop in their neighborhoods supporting their local retailers, service providers, buy homes, feed, clothe and shelter their families. When the income ceases, people still face their responsibilities. Mortgages, rent, medical needs, food, clothing and shelter are constant and when you have no income source your life becomes unstable at best.
For poor families in under served neighborhoods experience of this phenomena is triple and the depression forces them into deplorable circumstances often leaving them with no hope. Their social-economical and educational situations are bleak and everything spirals downward leaving them with few choices. Many turn to crime for survival sake while the unskilled, uneducated youth look for power, strength and authority, which often leads them to illegal means to earn income. Drugs, theft, robbery, boosting DVDs, CDs and prostitution are the norm. All of these can and do lead to violence.
The recent Memorial Day weekend stands out as a violent one in Chicago, where at least 56 people were shot and a dozen people died in shootings. One of the 44 nonfatal victims over Memorial Day weekend was a 4-year-old girl black girl. However, in spite of the increasing rate of homicides in this seven-month period since January our homicide rate is down. In May 2014, there were 44 homicides reported in Chicago; through May 20 of last year, the city saw 129 killings.
Assumptions are dangerous and misleading, knowledge is power and clarity brings things into focus. So when we discuss the violence in Chicago we have to adjust the numbers by population. When we do so, murder rates are far higher in smaller cities than in larger ones, such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
In 2012 Chicago had 500 murders more than any city in the country. So Chicago has been among the top three cities with the most murders since 1985. In 2013 there were and 440 murders in the city.
But Chicago also has some 2.7 million residents, more than any other city except New York and Los Angeles, and you’d expect it to have more murders than most other cities simply because there are more people. If we examine the raw numbers for population size to get a murder rate, a very different picture emerges.
According to the FBI figures, Flint, Mich., had the highest murder rate of any sizeable U.S. city in 2012. There were 62 murders per 100,000 population. Trailing Flint were Detroit (54.6 murders), New Orleans (53.2) per 100,000 and so on. Chicago, whose population is several times bigger than any of those cities, came in 21st, with 18.5 murders per 100,000, nowhere near the highest in the country.
In fact, what’s insightful is that from 1985 through 2012 only six cities have held the nation’s highest murder rates: New Orleans (12 times,); Washington, D.C. (eight times,); Detroit (four times,), Flint, Mich. (twice); Richmond, VA (once,) and Birmingham, Ala. (once,).
We have to note that the threshold for having the nation’s highest murder rate has fallen since the early 1990s, when the nation’s crack epidemic helped push violent-crime rates to record highs. In 1994, for instance, New Orleans led with 85.8 murders per 100,000; the next two cities, Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C., had rates of 70 or more per 100,000. Even in terms of raw numbers, Chicago has come a long way. In 1994 the city had 928 murders.
So summer’s on the way and while some of us are looking for ‘Hot Fun in the Summer-time, others are praying for winter’s return just to keep the violence off the streets.