Mired in a level of violence not seen in nearly two decades, the nation’s third largest city recorded its 701st murder on Thursday, reaching a stunning milestone before year’s end.
Chicago has seen the number of killings increase by about 58% since last year, according to police department data. The city is on pace to record the most murders in a year since 1997, when the police department reported 761 killings. Chicago Police have also reported more than 3,300 shooting incidents in 2016, an increase of about 49% compared to the same time last year.
Early Thursday morning, Chicago Police responded to the latest fatal shooting—a 19-year-old man found dead on the street on the city’s West Side with gunshot wounds to his head and chest. As of Thursday afternoon, no one had been arrested for the shooting of the teen.
“The levels of violence we have seen this year in some of our communities is absolutely unacceptable,” CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said of a murder rate the city has not seen since the end of crack-cocaine epidemic when a drug war between gangs fueled the rise in murders. “CPD will use every tool available to hold violent offenders accountable and will continue to work strategically to address crime and uphold its commitment to rebuild public trust.”
Johnson has blamed the violence on a combination of increased gang activity and weak gun laws that he says don’t dissuade convicted felons from carrying and using weapons.
But anti-violence activists say the killings—the bulk of which are occurring in a few low-income and predominantly African-American neighborhoods on city’s South and West Sides—also raise concerns that a dark edge has set into young people in some of the communities most impacted by the violence.
Andrew Holmes, a longtime Chicago-based anti-violence activist, noted that fatal shootings increasingly appear to have been sparked by fights that started on social media and that too frequently the assailants in the deadly incidents are motivated by smallest of slights.
One such incident made national headlines last month when Jovan Wilson, the 15-year-old grandson of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, was fatally shot by his younger brother’s friend amid a dispute over a pair of sneakers. The argument escalated, turned into a physical confrontation, and one of the young suspects pulled out a .9mm handgun and shot the Democratic-lawmaker’s grandson. Prosecutors allege a 16-year-old boy fired the gun at the order of a 17-year-old girl, who demanded the shooter act after Wilson punched her. The two teens have been charged with first-degree murder for the killing.
Holmes said the incident underscored a “self-hatred” that’s plaguing young people in the community.
“It’s more personal and about more than the easy access to guns,” Holmes said. “This is driven so much by self-hatred…and because there is an easy access to guns, the first thing they do is go to the gun to settle a feud.”
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SOURCE: USA Today, Aamer Madhani