Three days. Ten bodies. Forty-three others injured in shootings. This was Memorial Day weekend in Chicago, a city bloodied by a 50% increase in homicides in 2012.
Police and city officials have scurried to explain what they’re doing to fix the problem in a city with a murder rate higher than New York City’s but with half the population.
"It's not OK that we had 53 shootings last week, but that 53 shootings is the same exact number of shootings that we had last year. So this is not a new problem," said Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy at a Tuesday news conference convened to address the weekend’s crime, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As of Sunday, there have been at least 200 homicides from January through May, compared with 134 during the same time in 2011, according to unofficial police data cited by the Tribune.
For a relatively new mayor such as Rahm Emanuel who campaigned hard on lowering crime rates, those numbers are tough to explain away. The mayor blamed gangs.
“On a percentage basis — and this is just data — about 70% to 80% of the increase in both shootings and homicides are gang-on-gang violence," the mayor said, according to the Tribune. "We have to interject ourselves to stop the shootings, which is the only way you can stop the homicide rate."
He called for more involvement from community groups, though it’s unclear whether it would involve neighborhood groups such as CeaseFire — featured in the documentary “The Interrupters” — that work without police help to prevent retaliatory violence.
“Chicago is a different beast when it comes down to the issue of violence,” Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois, a violence prevention group, told Frontline in April. “You have outbreaks of violence the same way you have outbreaks of diseases in countries throughout the world. Some people are going to sleep in Chicago thinking about who they’re going to shoot the next day.”
At Tuesday's news conference, Emanuel also called some liquor stores a “cancer on the community,” according to ABC News. “They are a magnet for gun violence, narcotic dealing and other criminal activity,” he said.
Chicago is facing a rare blitz of homicides in an era when major crime has long been in decline across the nation, dropping to half the levels of the 1980s — even continuing to drop through the recession, going against common thinking that a tougher economy means higher crime.
Politicians’ careers often live and die against the crime rate in their districts. City officials’ promises to take action prompted skepticism from city Alderman Carrie Austin, who told ABC affiliate WLS, “We’ve all heard this before. We’ve heard it in different ways. Let’s see what this spin will do.”
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