Examining Chicago's Rash Of Gun Violence Against Young POC
In the third-largest city in the United States, murders and gun violence is so prevalent that the sound of gunshots has become commonplace. Chicago has been struggling with gun violence for decades, but only three months into the year and 2016 is already shaping up to be one of the deadliest years in the city’s history. Last Thursday, a man standing outside of a West Englewood convenience store joked about going “somewhere to duck and hide for cover” while live streaming a video of himself from his phone. Seconds later, he was shot multiple times on camera in broad daylight [warning: the video is extremely graphic]. That incident was one of the ten shootings that happened that day—three of which were fatal. This was only one day out of the year, but it mirrors an ongoing pandemic of gun violence that has taken hold of the city this year that has disproportionately targeted young black men.
The Chicago Tribune has been tracking crime data in the city for years, and they confirmed what so many Chicago residents had feared: this has been one of the deadliest years for gun violence in decades. As of Wednesday morning, March 30th, at least 727 people had been shot this year, while 79 people had been killed. That’s a 73 percent increase in shootings and a 71 percent increase in killings from the same period last year. This is the worst first quarter of a year for shootings and killings since 1999 and is part of a concerning year-over-year increase that has turned parts of the city into war zones—especially for young people of color. Last year, homicide victims skewed overwhelmingly black, male, and between the ages of 10 to 29 years old. Of the victims that have been shot in Chicago, many of the most high-profile deaths were teenagers.
A week and a half ago, Zarriel Trotter was shot in the back by a stray bullet. The 13-year-old student had become well known in the city when he was featured in a PSA with other students last year about gun violence in the city. “I don’t want to live around my community where I’ve got to keep on hearing and hearing people keep on getting shot, people keep on getting killed,” he said in the video. He’s in the hospital recovering, but isn’t the only teenager who caused a national uproar about gun violence. In 2013, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton performed during Obama’s inauguration, and was shot dead weeks later.
So what’s causing the spike in violence? A number of underlying factors seem to have mixed and imploded with the cataclysmic murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, when he was shot more than a dozen times by a police officer last year. The officer was arrested when the video went public, but it still prompted high-profile protests across the city, led to the dismissal of the police superintendent, and led to a federal investigation. Beyond that, it also hit the morale of police hard, leading to a new rule implemented on January 1st that requires cops to fill out detailed reports every time they make a street stop. It was part of an agreement with the ACLU in an effort to end the racial profiling, mistreatment, and abuse of low-income citizens who are overwhelmingly people of color.
Police anxiety over becoming the face of a new scandal has made them less willing to intervene in situations in which they should, but it isn’t the sole reason for an uptick in crime. An overwhelming majority of the shootings and murders in Chicago happen in areas of the city where gang conflicts and retaliatory violence (often related to the rampant drug market) run rampant. In Chicago, about 274,000 people this year—or ten percent of the city’s population—live in deep poverty. The people who fall into this category live on an average income of $5,885 a year per person, or less than $12,125 for a family of four. And the areas where this level of poverty persists is in predominantly black neighborhoods. In the struggle to survive on such a meager income, the drug business and gangs often become the only hope that people have of making enough money to avoid starvation and homelessness.
While the city scrambles to figure out a solution to the outbreak of gun violence and killings that have swept through neighborhoods this year, it’s vital to remain focused on the root causes. Poverty is a contributing factor, but it’s also part of a larger epidemic. 47 percent of black men aged 20 to 24 have been out of school and also out of work in 2014. For black females in the same age group, 35.3 percent are either unemployed or not in school, and unemployment rates for Latino teens are at a staggering 85 percent. With these kinds of socioeconomic barriers, coupled with the history of police discrimination in the city, it’s clear that the levels of violence that have gripped the city extend far beyond guns. Until Chicago invests in the communities of color that have been neglected for years, the violence won’t stop. It’s hard to maintain hope and dreams when death and gunshots are the new norm.
Stay tuned to Milk for more on Chicago’s rampant and horrific gun violence epidemic.
Images via Scott Olson and Abel Uribe.