Chi-town murder rate leaves few feeling safe
Many Chicago parents have kept their children inside this summer for fear they will be killed playing on the street.
There’s something special about the city of Chicago. Whether it’s the palatial skyline, the lights of the Magnificent Mile, or the diversity of art, food and culture, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
But in recent years, Chicago’s beauty has been diminished by the wanton slaughter of its citizens. In fact, local police and media reports show that Chicago has the highest rate of juvenile homicides in America. Since January, according to the Chicago Police Department, one in 10 homicide victims has been 16 years old or younger. Since the last school year began, an estimated 45 Chicago public school students have been murdered, the majority of whom had no gang or criminal affiliation.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, Chicago is also home to four of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. In many instances, the elderly are being murdered in their own homes, women are being raped and killed coming home from work, and children are being shot – at an alarming rate – while riding their bikes, playing in the park, standing on the street or coming home from school.
Chicago Police Department said that, since January, more than 280 murders have occurred on the streets of Chicago, the majority of which have been with a firearm.
The Chicago Tribune – which tracks murders in Chicago on a monthly basis – reported that July 9th, when one woman was strangled and another six people shot to death, was the deadliest day of 2009. During the 4th of July weekend – the bloodiest weekend to date – there were at least 63 shootings and one stabbing, resulting in the loss of 11 lives.
The ethnic breakdown of the victims and the perpetrators is also disturbing. In 2009, 88 percent of the murder victims were male and 78 percent of those victims were black. In 2008, when 511 murders were committed in Chicago, 74 percent of the victims were black and 76 percent of the perpetrators were also black.
Chicago’s murder rate is lower than in previous years, but the brutality of the murders as well as the age of the victims has caused the city’s leaders to stand up and take notice.
“As a father and grandfather, nothing pains me more than seeing Chicago’s children, our children, killed,” said Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley last month, during his annual address to the city. “For me, ending the violence is one of the most frustrating challenges we face.”
Father Michael Pfleger, the polemic leader of St. Sabina’s Catholic Church on Chicago’s West Side, said, “We’re fighting a war in Iraq to try to keep the peace over there, when we have innocent children dying on the streets right here at home.”
The case of Chastity Turner illustrates this point. In June, Chastity was visiting her grandmother on the city’s South Side. While washing the family’s dog outside with her father, a van pulled up and at least twenty shots rang out. Chastity was shot in the back while running for cover. She was only nine years old. Two men, aged 17 and 19, have since been charged with her murder and police are searching for a third suspect.
Recently, residents on the South Side have complained that crimes in their neighborhoods don’t get as much media coverage or police presence as the more affluent neighborhoods, such as those on the city’s North Side. Others are quick to say that black people are victims of their own circumstance. But some forget that people don’t choose to live in poverty stricken or crime-laden neighborhoods; children certainly have nothing to say about that. They, like any other Chicago resident, have the right to feel safe in and around their own homes. Unfortunately, they don’t.
Many Chicago parents have kept their children inside this summer for fear they will be killed playing on the street, particularly in Englewood, which is statistically Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhood. Children have nightmares about being killed or beaten coming from school. Sadly, for many of them balloons and stuffed animals have come to symbolize death, not joy and celebration.
Mayor Daley has challenged the Chicago Police Department to continually update their strategies in order to protect the city’s children. He wants the “gang bangers and drug dealers” terrorizing the city’s streets behind bars. As a result, police are now vigilantly enforcing the city’s curfew, writing violations and returning children who are seen outside after 10:30 p.m. to their homes. More than 100,000 guns have been turned in for the city’s annual gun program and the department is also actively seeking hundreds of new police recruits.
But Father Pfleger believes it’s the community that needs to step up to make children safe and to regain control over their neighborhoods. “We have worked with police well,” Pfleger said. “But I’m not one who believes in more guns and more police. I believe in more community outreach. We focus on community responsibility. If we don’t have the community working together, I don’t care how many police you have, you’re not going to be successful.”
This is a message Pfleger lives and breathes. St. Sabina Church has always been a firm advocate of anti-violence. But its message became personal in 1998 when Pfleger’s 17-year old foster son, Jarvis, was murdered. His killer was never found, and Pfleger’s efforts against violence became more aggressive. “We’ve made a dent in the violence,” Pfleger said. “But it won’t be completely effective until the violence has stopped.”
Mayor Daley also believes that a community alliance is the key factor in ending the violence, and he’s sponsoring a new program that will oversee that goal.
“We must keep our children involved in positive activities and away from gangs, guns and drugs,” Daley said in his annual address to the city.
But, Daley, like many other family advocates, ultimately believes the responsibility of keeping children away from guns and off the streets must begin in the home.
“I can’t emphasize how important it is for parents to accept their responsibility to keep their children safe,” he said. “If they can’t, they can call [city hall] and ask for help. I also want to plead with every person in every community to march with us and stand against the violence. If you know about a crime, report it. If you know who is involved in a crime, report them. The code of silence in many neighborhoods that protects the gang bangers and drug dealers is killing our children. It must end.”