Well, it looks like gun control hasn’t been treating Chicago right. A local barber, Lorenzo, whose brother died because of the violence in Chicago said in an interview, “Everybody got guns. Everybody got 30 bullets in their gun.” That means the law abiding citizens are not armed, and criminals are. That’s what gun control does.
It was movie night in Demarco Kennedy’s Far South Side apartment.
The 32-year-old railroad worker’s wife and three children waited for him in the living room, with plans to watch the animated film “Rio 2.” He sat at his dining room table, paying bills.
Kennedy’s kids, coached in the past by their wary parents, dropped to the floor.
As the children attempted to crawl into a hallway, Kennedy’s wife saw him fall over. The left side of his face was streaked with blood from a bullet wound.
“He was grabbing my hand real hard. He was trying to say something and he couldn’t,” Nicole Cooper said Tuesday, recounting the August evening when her husband was slain. “And when he released my hand, that’s when he passed.”
With that random bullet through the family’s window, Kennedy became another homicide victim in Chicago, one of more than 750 in 2016.
A persistent reality for some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, violence unnerved far reaches of the city in 2016 as shootings and homicides soared. Not since the drug-fueled bloodshed of the mid-1990s had the city witnessed such a toll.
Some neighborhoods, already scarred and gutted by years of violence, suffered inordinately. But the danger spread into more neighborhoods, too, and randomness became an all-too-familiar element to many shootings.
Grim milestones added up: The deadliest month in 23 years. The deadliest day in 13 years. 4,300 people shot. As the year wound down, with the promise of a new year coming soon, a violent Christmas Day.
“It’s a shame. It’s a shame,” said Rafi Peterson, a community activist in the Chicago Lawn community on the Southwest Side. “Those lives cannot be replaced.
“How did this happen? Why is this continuing to happen?”
For months, police, politicians and residents have asked the same questions.
In a recent interview at police headquarters, Superintendent Eddie Johnson and his second-in-command, First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro, speculated on the rise in homicides. They blamed, in part, a perceived willingness by criminals to settle disputes with guns, and what they say is a failure on the part of the justice system to hold them accountable.
“We used to respond to gang fights in progress … now we respond to shots fired,” Navarro said. “People fought. Now everyone picks up the gun. Just like that.”
Through Dec. 26, 754 people were slain in Chicago compared with 480 during the same period last year, an increase of 57 percent, according to official Police Department statistics. The last time Chicago tallied a similar number of killings was in 1997, when 761 people were slain. Shooting incidents also jumped by 46 percent this year to 3,512 from 2,398, the statistics show.
What’s more, crimes went up by double digits in nearly every major category, including criminal sexual assaults, robberies and thefts.
Month by month, Chicago’s homicide numbers have ticked upward. On cold days and warm days, snowy days and during holiday weekends alike.
Kennedy’s slaying on Aug. 9 in the Rosemoor neighborhood was among the 92 homicides across Chicago that month, the most the city had seen for a single month since July 1993 when there were 99. The weekend immediately before Halloween ended with 59 people shot, 17 fatally, the deadliest weekend of 2016. In November, homicides totaled 77, the worst for that month since 78 in 1994.
The Police Department statistics do not include about an additional 20 killings on area expressways, police-involved shootings, other homicides in which a person was killed in self-defense or death investigations.
Looking back to 1998, when Chicago recorded 704 homicides, the city was in the midst of a homicide decline from more than 900 earlier in the decade. The turn of the millennium saw a bottoming out, with homicides dropping to 453 at the end of 2004 — around the time the Police Department began relying on computerized data to know where to deploy officers where they’re needed the most. The tally rose again somewhat, then went down again in 2014, when the city recorded 416 slayings.
As the homicide numbers headed upward this year, crime experts cautioned against making year-to-year comparisons, arguing that long-term trends give a better understanding of how the level of violence in a city has changed over time.
Still, even though it has a lower homicide rate than many U.S. cities with smaller populations, Chicago by far continued to lead the nation in actual number of slayings.
The city’s homicides outpaced New York City and Los Angeles combined, even though their populations far exceed Chicago’s 2.7 million people. According to official statistics through Dec. 18, the most recent publicly available, New York and Los Angeles had a combined 613 homicides, fewer than Chicago’s total. In addition, there were a combined 2,306 shooting victims in the two cities, about half of Chicago’s total.
Crime experts cannot point to any definitive factors for the increases in shootings and homicides in Chicago this year. But some experts have come to one conclusion: Chicago’s dramatic rise in homicides this year is the highest of any major city.
A draft released Thursday of a new study from the University of Chicago Crime Lab noted that of the five largest U.S. cities by population, including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston, Chicago has seen the largest single-year homicide increase of the last 25 years.
The study also noted that the increase in slayings this year was “sudden and sustained,” with each month recording more homicides than the same months in 2015. But they pointed out that other cities throughout the country have also seen increases in homicides.
“The fact that many other American cities saw homicides increase in 2015 and 2016 suggests that part of what Chicago experienced this past year may not be unique to our city,” according to the study.
The study’s authors were careful to say they could not explain why Chicago’s violence has gone up, though they said weather patterns, declines in finances for social services, and any changes in police response couldn’t be definitively linked to the sudden and dramatic increase. They did note, however, that more homicides were committed with guns in Chicago than other cities.
In 2016, about 91 percent of Chicago’s homicides were committed with a firearm, up from 88 percent last year, the study showed. When you compare that with 1998, the last time Chicago recorded over 700 homicides, about 76 percent of those victims were killed with guns, official Police Department statistics show.
Los Angeles’ homicides committed with guns averaged 72 percent from 2011 to 2015, and 60 percent in New York City, the study noted.
However, Jens Ludwig, a professor of social service administration, law and public policy at the University of Chicago, said that the study could not conclude whether there were actually more guns on Chicago’s streets this year compared with past years.
“There’s no way to know if more guns are flooding into Chicago because there’s no definitive measure of the numbers of guns in Chicago,” said Ludwig, one of the authors of the study.
The year was tumultuous for the Chicago Police Department, as it struggled to contain the rise in violence while also undergoing reforms sparked by the release of 2014 video that showed Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. A torrent of street protests followed.
A wide-ranging civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into the city’s police practices was launched. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder and Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.