Fri 5 Oct, 2012 03:25 pm
Murders in Chicago: What can stop the bloodbath?
Judy Keen, USA TODAY
12:56PM EST October 4. 2012 - CHICAGO -- Estella Robinson doesn't want any more mothers to know the horror of losing a child to a bullet.
Her son, L.C. Robinson III, was shot and killed just after midnight Aug. 15 while he was standing on a corner chatting with a friend. He was 39, a carpenter, the father of four. No one has been charged with his murder.
Driven by gangs, drugs and guns, the bloodshed in President Obama's adopted hometown has resulted in a body count that exceeds the 312 murders this year in New York and 212 in Los Angeles, cities with populations dwarfing that of the Windy City. The toll here is up 25% from 2011: 391 through Sept. 23.
Last week, two men who had been beaten to death were found in the trunk of a car. The same day, a 17-year-old boy and a 33-year-old man were found shot to death. Those and others to be added to the official tally push the number of homicides in Chicago through September to the 400 mark for the first time since 2003. That year, 601 murders were documented here; annual totals have been in the 400s since 2009.
Jack Levin, a sociology and criminology professor at Boston's Northeastern University, says it's troubling that Chicago's murder count is rising while it falls in other major cities. In 2010, Los Angeles had 297 murders, the lowest since 1967. New York homicides have been declining since 1990, when a record 2,245 fell in the nation's largest city.
Everyone agrees it must be stopped. But how?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy have deployed more police to the most deadly areas, sought help from federal agencies and swept up guns and drugs and the people who possessed them.
McCarthy says the pace of murders has leveled off since the first three months of the year. Police have studied the gangs and identified how they have splintered and demarcated their territories. This allows police to anticipate violence and retaliation, he says, and some drug markets have been shut down because of the effort. McCarthy is enlisting athletes, actors and musicians for an "anti-no-snitching campaign" — an effort to stem a widespread street culture that discourages cooperation with police.
"It's really troubling when parents are not in control of their children," McCarthy says. "The problem is much bigger than just law enforcement. We accept our responsibility, but curing it is going to take a heck of a lot more than just police work."
In a televised message to Chicagoans this summer, Obama urged people to "foster strong and safe communities, to be good role models, to give our children a deeper appreciation for the values in their own lives and the lives of others."
Despite her grief, Robinson is trying to think of ways to save another young man's life. "If you happen to see a kid that you can help, that's what we can do," she says. "These kids who are using guns think it's like on TV. They are lost. It's got to be in your heart to reach out to one. One."
Driven by gangs, drugs
Most of the dead and their killers are young black men. Many live in impoverished neighborhoods where gangs sell drugs and fight for territory and market share. An Economic Policy Institute study released in July found that 2011 unemployment among African Americans in Chicago was 22.6%. Only Los Angeles and Las Vegas had higher rates.
Levin says poverty is a significant factor in high homicide rates and also "affects the ability of the city and the state to fund policies and programs that effectively fight crime."
Levin says other big cities wrestle with the murder problem: New York uses zero-tolerance policing on juvenile crimes. Boston partners with community groups to provide community centers and after-school programs for youths. Those cities and Los Angeles "have taken a law-and-order approach, sending larger numbers of police officers to crime hot spots," he says.