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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why Chicago Gun Violence Soars -- Digging For Honest Answers For Violent Communities


Chicago violence! Over and over we hear about the insane gun violence in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported on October 4, 2016, that the yearly total of shooting victims stood at 3,291. Some say the handful of neighborhoods on the south and north sides of the city that account for most of the shooting victims are virtual war zones. Others contend that is not so, yet statistics confirm a horrible reality -- gun violence in Chicago is out of control.

When you compare Chicago's homicide rate to that of other big cities in the country – New York and Los Angeles for example – it tops the list. Yet, New Orleans, St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore and Newark all have higher rates when you drill down the data per capita. Still, Chicago draws the most attention.

Chicago averages nearly 82 shootings per week. The 500th homicide of 2016 happened over Labor Day weekend. And, 2016 is the deadliest year in two decades when it comes to homicide rates. In just one weekend in August 2016 alone, there were eight gun-related homicides and 64 non-fatal shootings.  

(Amanda Wills and Sergio Hernandez. “500 homicides. 9 months. 1 American city. CNN. September 8, 2016.)
Why the Violence? 

No simple report will do justice to answering this question; however, some obvious factors contribute greatly to gun violence in Chicago. May these revelations dispel simple speculation as to why some areas of Chicago are so violent.


Although Chicago has strict gun laws, Chicago's gun violence problem is more complicated. Sixty percent of the guns used in shootings were purchased out of state.

"We border Indiana and Wisconsin, which have really lax gun laws," Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said. "We know that people from Chicago go across the border, fill up gym bags with illegal weapons from gun shows and things of that nature and they come back here and sell them to the gangs."

It has been reported that gun violators weren't getting adequately punished – thus, a need for repercussions from the justice system exists. According to the Chicago Reporter, thousands of cases involving weapons violations were thrown out in Chicago's Cook County criminal courts between 2006 and 2013, and more felony cases involving guns were thrown out than any other kind of case,

For this reason, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner recently signed a new gun control law that imposes harsher penalties on those who bring in guns from out of state to sell and do not have gun-owner ID cards.

(Emily Shapiro and Alex Perez. “Dozens of Shootings in 1 Weekend: A Look at Chicago's Gun Problem.” ABC News. July 07, 2015.)

The impact that gun availability has – particularly when combined with such risk factors for youth violence involvement as mental health problems, alcohol or drug abuse, and school failure or disengagement – is lethal. In the absence of easy gun availability, youth problems in school or with mental health or substance abuse are not nearly as high. No doubt, guns intensify violence and make violent events more lethal

Big Gang Presence 
From 1991 to 2004, gangs were behind the biggest chunk of killings in Chicago – one-third of them, according to the Chicago Police Department. Police say the gangs are mainly contained to a handful of pockets on the city's South and West sides.

Gang violence was trailed by armed robberies, which made up less than one-tenth of the killings, the police department said.

It is evident that street gang violence has been a continuing problem in Chicago since the late 1960's. The Department of Justice confirms that street gang-motivated crime is not random. In Chicago. it occurs in specific neighborhoods and is concentrated in limited time periods. While some street gangs spend much of their time defending or expanding their turf, others are actively involved in the business of illegal drugs.

Gang history going back to the 1990s shows that some street gangs specialized in incidents of expressive violence while others focused on instrumental violence. For example, the Vice Lords and BGDN were much more involved in acts of instrumental violence (such as possession or sale of drugs), while the Latin Disciples, Latin Kings, and smaller gangs specialized in acts of expressive violence (such as turf defense). Mostof the criminal activity in smaller street gangs centered on representation turf defense. The most lethal street gang hot spot areas are along disputed boundaries between small street gangs.

Studies show shootings are disproportionately concentrated in Chicago's most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Research from the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago found that of the total of 510 people were murdered in Chicago during 2008. Nearly half of the victims were between the ages of 10 and 25, and the vast majority were male. This dramatic over-representation of both young males and firearms is not new. Low-income, gang-involved young minority males are vastly overrepresented as both victims and offenders of gun violence. This violence has led to the killing of so many innocent bystanders and kept residents shut inside their homes out of fear.

(Roseanna Ander et al. “Report: Gun Violence Among School-Age Youth in Chicago.” Crime Lab University of Chicago.)

While over the past 50 years, society has made far less progress in understanding how to protect our citizens from gun violence (and violence more broadly), it has learned about how to protect citizens from other serious threats to life and health like heart disease.

The Crime Lab says, “In contrast, federal, state, and local governments throughout the United States have implemented a wide variety of innovative programs to reduce gun violence by youth and young adults over the past 50 years, but without a means of evaluation. The Lab reports, “The lesson is that progress in addressing youth gun violence in Chicago, or anywhere, is extremely difficult without guidance about what programs work, for whom, why, and how they can be improved.”

University of Illinois at Chicago physician Gary Slutkin says gun violence epidemic is exactly the right word. He argues that violence is a contagious disease. Slutkin says, “For example, you’re exposed to flu, you’re more likely to get flu. You don’t actually get flu without being exposed. Same thing for T.B., cholera and violence.”

He continues, “I mean, why does someone who was exposed to child abuse, abuse their own kids? That would be the person who you would think would be least likely to do it, because he knows how bad it was. But, in fact, he’s picked up this contagious set of behaviors.” 

(Judy Woodruff. “Why Chicago hasn’t yet escaped an epidemic of gun violence. PBS News Hour. September 07, 2016.)

So, Dr. Slutkin treats gun violence as a contagious disease. He founded Cure Violence, now an international effort that trains former gang members and felons to stop violence in its tracks, violence interrupters. He says these interrupters are actually health workers trying to cool people down and buy precious time.

Other Contributing Factors

The Crime Lab from the University of Chicago also reported mental health problems, alcohol use, economic conditions, and particularly school failure as contributing factors to Chicago gun violence.

(a) Mental Health

Analysis of data on 1,646 juvenile detainees randomly sampled at intake at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, collected by the Northwestern Juvenile Project, suggests that the majority of youth involved with the criminal justice system experience at least one psychiatric disorder – rates far higher than those among nationally representative samples of young African Americans.

(Linda A. Teplin et al. “The Northwestern Juvenile Project: Overview.” Northwestern Juvenile Project. U.S. Department of Justice. Study conducted 1995-1998.)

Many youth were found to have more than one disorder. 57 percent of females and 46 percent of males met diagnostic criteria for two or more disorders at baseline. Detained youth were more likely to have substance use disorders comorbid with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or other behavioral disorders than any other combination of disorders. Participants with a major psychiatric disorder (e.g., major depression, mania, psychosis) were significantly more likely to also have a substance use disorder than were those without major psychiatric disorders substance use disorders are also common; more than 21.

While, understandably, many people want stiff prison penalties on violent felons, benefits to society would be great if mental health problems among young people could be identified and treated before these disorders lead to violence.

(b) Alcohol Use

Although media frequently links youth gun violence to hard drugs, analysis of data on Chicago homicides from the Illinois Violent Death Reporting System found that only 3 percent of victims ages 10 to 24 tested positive for recent cocaine or opiate use.13 In contrast, 35 percent of homicide victims had alcohol in their blood at the time of death, often at levels above legal thresholds defined for alcohol intoxication.

A 2013 Northwestern Medicine study examined the association between proximity to a liquor store and gunshot wounds from 1999 to 2009, finding that a person near a liquor store or tavern on the South Side or West Side is up to 500 times more likely to be shot than another individual in the same neighborhood.

The study also comes on the heels of a recent report by University of California, Riverside sociologist Robert Nash Parker, that found limiting access to alcohol could reduce community violence.
“You’re adding alcohol to an already volatile situation in a distressed community,” said lead investigator Marie Crandall, M.D., associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“If you light a match in the rainforest and throw it on the ground, the match will go out. If you light a match in a haystack in the middle of a drought, a powder keg will go off. These neighborhoods are powder kegs because they are challenged with high rates of unemployment, faltering economies, loss of jobs and institutionalized poverty and racism.”

(“Gun Violence And Alcohol: Study Finds Proximity To Liquor Store Increases Chances Of Being Shot In Chicago.” The Huffington Post. September 20, 2013.)

(c) Economic Problems

Some Chicagoans partly blame the violence on economic struggles and lack of jobs. However, Chicago's unemployment rate fell from 6.1% in 2015 to 5.5% in 2016.

(Aamer Madhani. “Chicago's murder rate soars 72% in 2016; shootings up more than 88%.” USA Today. April 01, 2016.)

But, of course, violence poses key obstacles to the economic vitality of low-income communities. Businesses are more likely to close early in higher-crime neighborhoods. Even more importantly, high crime rates deter business investment, particularly the creation, growth, or relocation of service-related establishments that would be a valuable source of employment to lower-skilled workers.

(Robert Greenbaum and George Tita. “Violent Crime Surges Hurt Businesses Most in Low-Crime Areas.” Urban Studies. 2004.)

Communities in the West Side district have long struggled under the weight of low employment and poverty. Past census data show that far more households in the West Garfield Park neighborhood fell below the poverty level than the citywide average and that its unemployment rate was at times as high as 25 percent.

(d) School Failure

The Crime Lab found that standardized vocabulary scores were on average below the fifth percentile based on national norms; that is, the average youth in juvenile detention in Chicago in the late 1990s scored lower in reading than 95 percent of all similarly aged youth nationwide. Twenty-six percent of the Chicago youth in juvenile detention reported that they had dropped out or were expelled from school. Forty-eight percent reported that their last report card had no better than a “D” average. A large share of detained youth had dropped out of school altogether, and, in fact, gang involvement was thought to help youth fill the void after they haved dropped out.

Crime Lab's analysis suggests that a critical turning point seems to occur as children approach middle school age, when both arrest and dropout rates begin to increase. The Crime Lab cites the need for early interventions (as young as age 10) and help for young people to navigate the highest-risk years (through the early 20s). There is need to engage youth in positive, prosocial activities provided by schools and other organizations.

From the study of the 500 shootings, Ron Huberman, a former police officer and transit executive with a passion for data analysis, said that officials know that deadly violent outbursts are not truly random. The students at highest risk of violence, by statistics, are most likely to be black, male, without a stable living environment, in special education, skipping an average of 42 percent of school days at neighborhood and alternative schools, and having a record of in-school behavioral flare-ups that is about eight times higher than the average student.

(Susan Saulny. “Focus in Chicago: Students at Risk of Violence. The New York Times. October 06, 2009.)

According to a 2012 report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, more than 70 percent of Black students in CPS attend a school where 90 percent or more of the student population is Black, Latino or another minority group. Almost half of African American students attend schools that are 99 percent or more minority students. By that measure, Chicago has the highest level of extreme school segregation of any major city.

National Public Radio's This American Life program did a two-part show focused on one Chicago school – Harper High School in West Englewood, a poverty-stricken and virtually all-Black neighborhood on the city's South Side. Harper has just over 500 students. In the year leading up to the 2012-13 school year, 29 current and former students were shot. Eight of the 29 died.

"[I]t's hard not to think," This American Life host and producer Ira Glass said at the opening of the program, "that if you grafted these facts onto another high school in a wealthier place, maybe a other places, that would be national news, right? We would all know the name of that school."

Commonality of Factors

The former White House chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has been struggling to get a grip on the violence in Chicago. 

"Like every major city in the country, Chicago faces two critical challenges: the strength of our schools and the safety of our streets. Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound," Emanuel said.

President Obama, himself, also nodded to the difficulty in getting gun control legislation passed at the state level, while making the case for a vote on a federal gun control package.
But, Obama also acknowledged that "no law or set of laws can prevent every senseless act of violence."

"When a child opens fire on another child, there's a hole in that child's heart that government can't fill – only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole," he said.

Part of the solution, the President said, is to improve the economy and build the middle class. He targeted development in blighted areas and better job opportunities as a way to strengthen families and ultimately deter people from violence.

“If a child grows up with parents who have work, and have some education, and can be role models, and can teach integrity and responsibility, and discipline and delayed gratification – all those things give a child the kind of foundation that allows them to say, 'my future, I can make it what I want.'"

--President Barack Obama

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