The Truth About Violence in Chicago

Judged as a whole, Chicago is doing a lot of things right. Judged by the plight of its least fortunate, that's not nearly enough.


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Living in a city that had 82 shootings over the Fourth of July weekend, Chicagoans could be forgiven for envying the residents of Indianapolis.

Imagine living in a place where homicides have been reduced by more than half in the past two decades, where robberies are less common than they've been in nearly half a century, where car theft is at levels not seen since "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was still in production.

Actually, that's where Chicagoans do live. I was only pretending to talk about Indianapolis. Those developments have all occurred right here.

Right now, the city is getting national as well as local attention for outbreaks of bloodshed, which reinforce its reputation as the murder capital of America. In terms of total homicides, it may be. But that figure fails to account for population.

In the overall rate of violent crime, Chicago ranks 19th—slightly worse than Minneapolis and better than Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Nashville. It has half as much violent crime, per capita, as Detroit or Oakland, California.

Even when it comes to homicide, Chicago is enjoying, relatively speaking, a golden age. In 1992, it had 943 murders—2.6 per day. Last year, it had 415—1.1 per day. Two decades ago, such progress was the stuff of dreams.

In 2013, the murder rate (homicides per 100,000 residents) was the lowest it had been since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. So far, the homicide total for 2014 is 206, a bit below last year's pace.

Taken as a whole, the city has not gotten more dangerous. It has gotten less dangerous—much less. Nor does it stand out among its peers. "Chicago's overall violent crime rate is not exceptional when compared to other large cities," writes Yale University sociologist Andrew Papachristos in a recent study.

None of this is any comfort to recent victims of crime or to the families of young people who are gunned down in the street. But it's crucial to understanding the nature and size of the problem. High levels of criminal violence are a terrible reality in some neighborhoods, but not in most.

Even in the most dangerous areas, things may be improving. Papachristos contends that "even in the highest crime communities, crime is going down. … Nearly all communities in Chicago experienced a decline in murder and overall crime over the past several decades."

That point is not undisputed. Daniel Kay Hertz, a master's student at the University of Chicago's Harris School, calculates that several of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods have gotten worse, not better.

No one doubts that the bulk of the violence is concentrated in particular places. People in most of the city are pretty safe. In the remainder of the city, though, the level of violence is staggering.

What accounts for it? One is the strength and reach of street gangs. In 2012, the Chicago Crime Commission reported that Chicago has more gang members than any city in America. Some 80 percent of murders involve gang members, either as the killer or the killed.

Gangs are as much a symptom of the city's problems as a cause. Chicago has a lot of areas that are almost entirely black—the result of decades of deliberate policies of racial segregation—and largely poor. Jobs are scarce, vacant buildings abound, schools are often inferior, good role models are hard to come by—and crime is a brutal fact of daily life.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in a recent article in The Atlantic, wrote: "Chicago's impoverished black neighborhoods—characterized by high unemployment and households headed by single parents—are not simply poor; they are 'ecologically distinct.'"

Kids trapped in these areas face innumerable hurdles to success, omnipresent dangers to life and limb, and constant pressures to become part of the criminal class. So the tangle of pathology, as it has been called, tends to be self-perpetuating.

No one has come up with a way to untangle it that is practically plausible and politically salable. More police would help. So would ending the drug war. Better schools hold some promise. Economic development is indispensable. Neglect will only make things worse.

Judged as a whole, Chicago is doing a lot of things right. Judged by the plight of its least fortunate, that's not nearly enough.

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  1. No one doubts that the bulk of the violence is concentrated in particular places.

    You know who else was racist?

    1. Margaret Sanger?

    2. Franklin Roosevelt?

    3. Ghandi?

      1. Mister Moto?

  2. You gotta be kidding me dude, thats like totally insane.

    1. Roll that beautiful bean footage!

      1. This is like the worst chat room ever.

        1. Leave anonbot alone!

  3. Half the murder rate per capita of Detroit and Oakland? That’s damnation by very faint praise.

    In addition to the violent crime, albeit in limited areas, you have govt corruption and crippling taxes. It makes Wisconsin look good.

    1. If you google it, you have a few outliers like Flint and Detroit and Oakland with high murder rates per capita by U.S. standards (not so much so by world standards), then a butt ton of big cities in about a 50 way tie. Chicago is in the second tier.

      Not a place I would want to live, and certain neighborhoods there are FN dangerous, but not as bad as its rep.

      1. You left out Rockford. I feel slighted.

        1. Rockford is dead, man.
          Too soon!

        2. Rockford is perhaps Chicago’s shittiest suburb.

  4. If only Chicago had Community Activists who could solve these problems…

    1. Exactly. Someone with a message…of hope…and change…

      1. Vague promises about good intentions…that’s the ticket.

        1. and when they try to implement those plans and completely !@#$ it up, they can always call you a racist for noticing.

    2. You mean shaking down, business’s right?

  5. Is the danger why there are no Chicago Reasonoid meetups?

    1. I thought it was because Nicole is in Chicago, and nobody wants to meet up with her.

      1. Wait, Chicago is a real place? I thought it was the fictional home of boogeymen.

        1. With big shoulders and absurd accents.

          1. Midwesterners don’t have accents.

    2. I didn’t even know that there were libertarians in the city.

    3. I thought it was because everyone knew it would just turn into a brawl over whether or not deep dish pizza is in fact pizza.

      1. It’s not.

        Case closed. Science settled.

        1. There was one. Until there were two.

  6. Lipstick on a pig.
    I’m always leery when someone says they are gonna tell me “The Truth . . .”

  7. At least in Indianapolis, you have second amendment rights.

  8. Democrats have controlled Chicago since Christ was a carpenter.
    But they are not responsible in any way for the situation.

  9. Ive heard, and i dont really know if this is true or not, but ive heard that police in some cites are under pressure to under report crime to make the city look good.

    Kinda hard to under report murder, but i suppose you could claim that the body with holes in it was an accidental shooting or something.

    1. Bingo

      Murders are being reclassified as “noncriminal deaths”.

      Chicago’s pulling a lot of tricks to make the numbers look better than they are. It’s really hard to tell how much the reduction in crime is due to changes in reporting vs. changes in actual behaviour.

      1. I wonder what the numbers look like for the entire Metro area compared to just the city. You haven’t actually accomplished anything if you just push the crime out to the suburbs.

    2. Chicago magazine covered this very well earlier this year.…..ime-rates/

      1. Everything now is a lie. It is weird. You can’t trust almost anything that is published anymore.

    3. Apparently it’s not that hard to under-report murder, as explained in the Chicago magazine article cited below. Police management does it all the time and the pols think it’s wonderful.

  10. Violence all across America is falling but Chicago’s rate is falling much more slowly. But because it is actually falling slightly, CELEBRATE!

  11. Chicago has rather famously been cooking the books to make it appear the murder rate is going down. Pretty sure Reason has covered this.

    Also, name dropping Minneapolis sounds good, because everyone thinks Minnesota is a hunky-dory state of do-gooders, but the city has a major league crime problem.

    1. When I think of Minnesota I think of the muslim politician keith ellison and all the news articles about sudanese-americans living in africa (after american childhood) to fight for islam.

  12. I have a way to reduce the problem. End prohibition.

    1. And the welfare state. Idle hands something something.

  13. “No one has come up with a way to untangle it that is practically plausible and politically salable. More police would help.”

    Would it? More martial presence of the Chicago variety would be a good thing? The bad areas will respond well to more police? More rights-violating cops going around building distrust in these communities is the answer? No.

    ” So would ending the drug war. ”

    Yes. It’s a big reason reason why the criminals have so much power, the stakes are so high for drug-related criminals which results in more violence/death, and so many lives are ruined early with criminal drug-related charges.

    “Better schools hold some promise. ”

    True, if it’s not really “public schools ” and “throw more money at it”. Instead of “Better” schools, I’d say specifically charter/private schools that allow families with students there to avoid city/state school-related taxes, would be a better answer.

    “Economic development is indispensable.”

    vague term here – but strikes me as synonymous with centrally-planned, government-assisted, doomed-to-fail “economic development” that end up perverting the natural allocation of commercial ventures/money – history shows it usually takes the form of restrictive (and often racially biased) zoning, handouts to certain businesses, and nonsensical investment in bad areas prematurely.

    “Neglect will only make things worse.”

    So will following the same prescriptions for city rehab that have questionable success in the past.

    1. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting “racially biased zoning” today. You had me until then.

      1. I don’t think anyone comes out and says that either – but:…..bear-fruit

        1. Good stuff, but I am more hesitant than some to label current zoning practices “racially biased”.

    2. More cops would be more effective if they weren’t on the front lines of the drug war. I’m all for the men in blue breaking up fights, addressing domestic disturbances, and disarming violent criminals.

      1. addressing violent domestic disturbances

        I’m a little more comfortable with that.

    3. “Better schools” is one of those platitudes you have to mouth these days if you want people to take your arguments seriously.

      1. Ok, so specifically, school choice. End the drug war, allow for school choice, roll back bs regulations that require licensing for hair braiding and things like that, then focus police energy on REAL crimes. I think under that scenario, more police could be beneficial. In the mean time, it would just fuel the black market.

  14. Seems like their reduction in murders has more to do with poor aim by the shooters(82 wounded only 14 killed and who knows how many shots fired) and better emergency care(more survivors)

  15. Jobs are scarce, vacant buildings abound, schools are often inferior, good role models are hard to come by?and crime is a brutal fact of daily life.

    Is it not quite probable that the scarce jobs, vacant buildings, etc., are a result of crime–not necessarily the cause?

  16. Every time one of Chicago’s unconstitutional gun-control efforts fails in a court of law, the local press licks the genitalia of City Hall’s occupants to gussy-up gun violence in the city.

    But God forbid any left-winger actually propose ending the War On Drugs which is responsible for most of the existing violent crime. Solving the problem will make it harder to justify phony-baloney city jobs, and every city job cut means 25 fewer Democrat votes.

    1. Most “gun crime” is gang related. They just can’t see not using force.

    2. What does “ending the war on drugs” entail, exactly?

  17. No one has come up with a way to untangle it that is practically plausible and politically salable. More police would help. So would ending the drug war. Better schools hold some promise. Economic development is indispensable. Neglect will only make things worse.

    i.e., let’s have more Big Government programs.

    An odd thing for a libertarian magazine to advocate.

    1. Right, that’s what struck me and why I quoted same above.

      Sometimes not even ‘libertarians’ take the time to think about what they’re suggestions would look like in the ugly light of reality.

      1. saying ‘economic development’ does not mean necessarily government money and programs. It could mean ‘until there is some economic development things will continue to get worse’. It could be a call for gentrification.

    2. My reaction as well.

    3. I thought Reason was big on ending the drug war. Drug dealing funds gang activity & is the main reason why they shoot at one another for the right to deal on a particular corner.

  18. Not even close I fear.

    Chicago violence remains extraordinarily high, and most reductions track national trends.…..-it-wrong/

  19. After reading the Chicago Magazine article on the cooking of the statistics, the entire article is just plain silly. Chicago is not doing anything right or well, except hiding crime numbers.

    1. Chicago Magazine says after poring over police records, they found 10 cases that they claim should have been counted as homicides in 2013. It’s not like McCarthy & the CPD are covering up hundreds of murders. Compared to the 80s & 90s, the murder rate is down drastically.

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