By: The Staff Reporters of Georgia Weekly Post
In a year of relentless violence, Chicago has hit another grim milestone, exceeding 700 homicides for the first time in nearly two decades, according to official Police Department records and local media reports.
The 700 mark was reached about 6:20 a.m. Wednesday when a 25-year-old man was shot in the abdomen and back as he drove, crashing into a bus shelter in the 9300 block of South Cottage Grove Avenue on the South Side, said Frank Giancamilli, a police spokesman to Georgia Weekly Post.
Then at about 8 p.m., a 22-year-old man was found shot and killed as he walked in a gangway near 68th Street and Cornell Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood, he said.
The year got off to a violent start with 50 homicides in January and rarely let up even after the end of the summer — the peak season for shootings.
The 701 homicides through Wednesday marked a nearly 56 percent jump from the 450 killings a year earlier. With one month still to go, that represents the most homicides since 704 in 1998. There were 761 homicides in 1997.
Through Wednesday, nearly 4,050 people have been shot, a 50 percent jump from 2,699 victims a year earlier, according to the department statistics. Shooting incidents rose by comparable figures, to 3,315, up 49 percent from 2,224 a year earlier.
The Police Department statistics do not include about an additional 20 killings on area expressways, as well as police-involved shootings, justifiable homicides or death investigations that could later be reclassified as homicides.
The surge in violence has come at a time of upheaval for the Police Department amid an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in the past year's fallout over the video showing the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by an officer.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who was a surprise appointment in March after his predecessor, Garry McCarthy, was fired in the blowup over the McDonald shooting, said his department is doing all it can to combat violence rooted in poverty and hopelessness.
On Tuesday, following a speech to the Union League Club, Johnson called this year's homicide totals "unacceptable," blaming what he called "a small subsection of citizens" for the violence. The department has compiled a "strategic subject list" — a computerized algorithm designed to zero in on about 1,400 mostly gang members considered most likely to shoot someone or become a victim of violence.
"The police are doing their job," Johnson told reporters. "What we need help in is holding these repeat gun offenders accountable for this gun violence, and until we do that, we're going to continue to see the cycle of violence."
Homicides peaked in Chicago at more than 900 a year in the early to mid-1990s. This year has seen homicides soar month after month to levels not seen in about two decades. The 92 homicides in August alone marked the most the city had seen for a single month since July 1993. By early September, Chicago surpassed the homicide toll for all of 2015. The Halloween weekend ended with 59 people shot, 17 fatally, the deadliest weekend of 2016. And in the just-completed November, homicides totaled 77, the worst for that month since 78 in 1994.
The city's violence continues to far outpace both New York and Los Angeles combined even though their populations far exceed Chicago's. According to official statistics through about Nov. 20, the most recent that are publicly available, New York and Los Angeles had a combined 565 homicides, less than Chicago's total. In addition, there were a combined 2,117 shooting victims in the two cities, close to half of Chicago's total.
Crime experts caution about making year-to-year comparisons of homicides, arguing that long-term trends give a better understanding of how the level of violence in a city has changed over time.
Police officials have blamed much of Chicago's violence on the flow of illegal firearms through dangerous neighborhoods and an intractable gang problem. The gangs, once highly structured and hierarchal, have fractured into small factions. Petty disagreements and personal disputes can quickly turn violent with social media, crime experts have said.
Another factor contributing to the violence could be a drop in morale among Chicago police officers because of heightened scrutiny in the fallout over the McDonald shooting as well as a new law requiring detailed reports be filled out for every street stop because of concerns over racial profiling. In interviews, officers recently told the Chicago Tribune that they had taken a more cautious approach to their work, concerned they could end up in a viral internet video, sued or fired.
So far this year, the bulk of the violence has been concentrated in neighborhoods on the South and West sides that have been plagued by decades of poverty, entrenched segregation, gangs, rampant narcotics sales and other social ills.
Two of the city's historically most violent police districts — Harrison and Englewood — account for almost one-fourth of Chicago's homicides and shooting incidents.
Harrison, a West Side district that includes communities such as West Garfield Park and North Lawndale, has recorded the worst violence in the city. Through Nov. 27, homicides totaled 88, an 87 percent increase over the 47 people slain a year earlier, official department statistics show. Shooting incidents rose to 440, up 75 percent from 251 a year earlier.
Through the same time period, homicides in the South Side's Englewood District skyrocketed to 82, a 148 percent rise from 33 a year earlier, the department said. Shooting incidents totaled 342, a 36 percent rise from 251 a year earlier.
And in the Austin District on the city's far West Side, homicides doubled to 54 from 27 a year earlier, the statistics show. Shooting incidents went up by even more, to 293, a 117 percent jump from 135 a year earlier.
The violence has also spiked in the Chicago Lawn, Deering, Gresham and Grand Crossing police districts on the South Side.
The Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park, said he talks to young people in the community about staying in school and earning a legitimate living. But he knows it's not easy for them.
"It's really a culture of death," he said. "There's a lot of fear and a lot of assumption that they're not going to live long."
On Thursday afternoon at Ms. B's European Hair Weaving, a barbershop across the street from where Chicago's 700th homicide took place a day earlier, employees and customers were disturbed to learn from a reporter of the killing's significance.
"If this was my place, I'd have bulletproof windows, a buzzer on the door," said Rowan Weaver, 43, who has worked at the shop in the South Side's Burnside neighborhood for eight years.
"We got sort of immune to this stuff because it happens so much," said another barber, who identified himself as Marcus Johnes, 33.
Johnes, a comb in one hand and clippers in the other, speculated on the causes of the seemingly runaway violence.
"Definitely social media has a big influence on the killings," he said. "(Kids) ain't got nothing to do. Drugs."
"I'm trying my best to raise my kids," his customer, 35, said in an irritable tone, with a smock covering his body and shaving cream on his face. "Once we leave the house, what do we do? It could be me or one of my daughters."
"Seven hundred murders?" he asked incredulously. "That's heartbreaking." she told Georgia Weekly Post