Chicago is on pace to see as many as 650 or 700 murders this year, more than any year since the early 2000s, and likely more than the total murders in New York and Los Angeles combined.
Through the end of the day Friday, Chicago had seen 475 murders – just six less than in all of last year, according to police department statistics. The city has already exceeded last year’s total number of gun-related homicides, with 430.
As violence rises, an increasing number of shootings and murders are going unsolved. Through August 28, the police department had only made arrests in 73 of the nearly 2,000 non-fatal shooting incidents so far this year – or just under 4%, according to a department spokesman.
The clearance rate for murders is not much better. Last Sunday, police swiftly charged two brothers in the murder of Nykea Aldridge, a 32-year-old mother of four, who was shot to death the Friday before while pushing a stroller on her way to register her kids for school. Her shooting had made national headlines because she was the cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade, who mourned her death publicly as “unreal” and “another act of senseless gun violence”.
But the quick charges in Aldridge’s case are an exception. Police have only made arrests in about 16% of fatal shootings through August 28 this year, according to a department spokesperson. Through June, the clearance rate for all murders was 22.2%. That’s lower than last year’s rate of 30.4%, and dramatically lower than the national average of 64.5%, according to the most recent available national FBI data.
Overall arrests in Chicago also have dropped 27% compared with last year, according to police statistics.
Illinois governor Bruce Rauner said Wednesday he did not believe it was appropriate to call in the National Guard to Chicago, a perennial political talking point in response to violence in Chicago.
“No thoughtful leader thinks that’s a good idea or would really provide a solution. In fact, it may exacerbate other problems,” he said.
In the 7300 block of Rockwell on Tuesday afternoon, a man’s blood drained toward the curb in front of a Buick SUV he had bought the night before, according to a stunned neighbor who had known the victim, Brian B Winters, for 10 years. The blood was from Winters’ face, where he had been shot twice by a man in a ski mask, and his chest, where the third bullet struck. As neighbors looked on and police knocked on doors, television news helicopters appeared overhead, marking what detectives wouldn’t say to onlookers: after being rushed to the hospital in critical condition Winters had succumbed to his wounds.
This was now a homicide scene.
“I just remember that he wasn’t even really running,” said Tynika Garner of the shooter. “I would say he was trotting.”
Garner watched from the kitchen window of her mother’s Marquette Park home as the shooter – his face covered in a black ski mask and carrying a silver pistol – casually left the 33-year-old lying bleeding in the street. The shots woke up Garner’s mother, 66-year-old Shirlene Garner, from an afternoon nap. Shirlene then watched a tragic scene unfold.
Winters’ mother ran to her son, pleading with him to stay alive.
“She was begging him to stay with her,” Shirlene recalled. “But I didn’t see him breathing very well. It was so shallow at that point.”
The Garners said their block is normally quiet – a neighbor chimed in that there hasn’t been so much as a fight in years.
“That’s how the city is set up,” Tynika explained. “There’s good blocks and there’s bad blocks. It’s almost like once you find a good one you just never want to leave.”
In Englewood, on the 600 block of Ashland on Monday night, four people were shot in a single incident. The two men – ages 22 and 24 – are documented gang members, police said. The women with them were shot once each and all four victims are in stable condition.
Dean Gee watched the shooting from his window. “Come around here at 9 o’clock tonight; it’ll sound like you somewhere in Baghdad,” he said.
In Chicago, one of the country’s most racially segregated cities, the spike in violence has not affected all residents equally. Neighborhoods that have long struggled with violence have seen the most dramatic increases.
In a police district that covers part of Englewood, on the south side, murders are up 155%. In the police district that covers Austin, on the city’s west side, murders have increased 150%, and the district has seen more than 200 shootings.
The rising violence comes as Chicago’s police department is under investigation by the justice department for potential civil rights violations, with a focus on whether there are racial disparities in the department’s use of force.
“We need it,” Rahm Emanuel, the city’s mayor, said last year in response to the announcement of the justice department’s investigation.
On Friday, the mayor’s office said in a statement: “The violence that is predominantly happening on the south and west sides of the city is completely unacceptable. And it is abundantly clear that Illinois needs better laws to hold repeat gun offenders accountable for their crimes.”
Chicago, a city of 2.7 million people, has roughly similar numbers of non-Hispanic white and black residents, according to Census data. About a third of the city identifies as Hispanic. But the toll of gun-related homicides in Chicago falls disproportionately on men of color, particularly black men.
Last year, only one white female was murdered with a gun in Chicago, according to statistics released through a police department records request.
A survey of more than 1,000 Chicago residents this spring found nearly half of black and Hispanic residents said they had made changes to their daily routines as a result of the increase in violence, compared with only a quarter of whites.
Trump would stop violence ‘in one week’
Chicago’s spike in murders and shootings this year has become a political flashpoint in the presidential campaign, with Republican nominee Donald Trump pointing to Chicago as evidence that Democrats have failed to keep African Americans safe.
Trump’s tweet in response to Aldridge’s death, “Dwayne [sic] Wade’s cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!” sparked wide criticism.
Wade said in an interview aired on Friday that Trump’s comment left “a bad taste” in his mouth. While he wanted the loss of his cousin to spark a national conversation, he said it was difficult to see her death “used as a ploy for political gain”.
Trump said in an interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that the way to fix gun violence was to empower the police department to be “very much tougher than they are right now. They’re right now not tough.”
The presidential candidate said he had met with a “rough tough” Chicago police officer who told him that, if he was in charge, he would be able to stop the violence “in one week”.
“I believed him, 100%,” Trump said.
Trump’s comments that Chicago’s police should be tougher come in the wake of months of protest against police violence towards black residents, including a sustained occupation outside Homan Square, a police facility investigated by Guardian US that protesters said is “emblematic of the fact that our system is boldly and unapologetically violent and destructive.”
A police accountability task force created by the mayor released a report in April that concluded that citizens’ mistrust of the police department is “justified”.
“The Task Force heard over and over again from a range of voices, particularly from African Americans, that some CPD officers are racist, have no respect for the lives and experiences of people of color and approach every encounter with people of color as if the person, regardless of age, gender or circumstance, is a criminal,” the report noted.
“There is substantial evidence that people of color – particularly African Americans – have had disproportionately negative experiences with the police over an extended period of time.”
The survey conducted by the New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation this spring found white and black residents were split on their views of the police department and the racial biases of the criminal justice system. Only 12% of black respondents thought the police department was doing an excellent or good job, compared with 47% of white respondents.
Roughly half of black respondents said they thought the police were doing a “poor” job, and more than three-quarters said they believed racial minorities were treated unfairly by the criminal justice system all or most of the time.
Asked about the police department’s low clearance rates for shootings and murders, police department spokesman Frank Giancamilli blamed “gang culture” for witnesses’ unwillingness to cooperate with the police.
According to police department statistics, 85% of Chicago’s gun murders last year were gang-related.
Innocent witnesses were fearful of being identified by gang members if they cooperated with the police, Giancamilli wrote in an emailed statement, while “Those witnesses who are associated with gangs generally seek to retaliate on their own or attempt to minimize scrutiny of their associates by police, leaving them unwilling to provide information.”
“CPD detectives work tirelessly to pursue leads and bring some level of closure to families affected by gun violence,” he wrote.
To improve clearance rates, he said, the department is also trying to provide detectives with additional resources, including doing trainings with community based organizations “to make sure detectives are sensitive to the needs of victims and their families and aware of community dynamics.”
Regarding the levels of community trust in the police among black residents, he added: “The ability to keep communities safe and solve crimes is only as strong as the partnerships that the police has with the public.”
Although overall arrests are down, gun seizures are up, he noted: police have made nearly 6,000 gun seizures this year, compared with nearly 5,000 over the same period last year. Gun arrests are also up 5% compared with last year.
At the same time that Trump has pushed for tougher policing and dubbed himself “the law and order candidate”, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has called for stricter national gun control laws and for reforming police departments’ treatment of black Americans.
According to Chicago police department data obtained through a records request, 88% of last year’s murders were committed with a firearm. The spring survey found that large majorities of both white and black Chicago residents agreed that the current gun control laws were ineffective at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
At the Democratic national convention in July, two mothers of children killed as a result of Chicago gang violence appeared onstage to support Clinton: Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley, the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student killed in 2013, and Annette Nance-Holt, a Chicago fire department official and mother of 16-year-old Blair Holt, killed in 2007.
While Chicago has had the country’s highest total number of murders in recent years, it does not have the nation’s highest per capita homicide rate. More than a dozen other large cities, including St Louis, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Newark, have dramatically higher murder rates.
The Chicago police department’s murder statistics do not include police shootings or homicides that are found to be justifiable. A spokeswoman for the Cook County medical examiner’s office said on Wednesday that the office had recorded 525 total homicides in Chicago in 2015. This year, through August 31, the office has recorded 505 homicides in Chicago. That number includes people who may have been shot in another year but who died this year, she said.
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