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The Mechanics
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Chicago Thu Jul 16 2009

The streets are hot. What's the solution?

...the Olympics, of course.

Seriously though, crime in Chicago is on the rise. Entire neighborhoods are turning into killing fields, and no part of the city is inured to this. Crime moves. Danger moves. The Daleys of the world tend to think the solution is just to privatize security--in other words, make sure just the well off are protected. Privatizing public space is his thing, after all. But the best crime fighting program is secure, well-paying entry level jobs.

Check out this breathless report from the Sun-Times:

Three men were fatally shot. One man was fatally stabbed. Police shot one man and at least seven other people were wounded by gunfire -- including an 8-year-old boy sitting in his bedroom -- during an especially violent six hours late Wednesday and early Thursday mainly on the South and West Sides.

....

About 12:30 a.m. Thursday, a man in his 20s was shot in the head at 1109 N. Wood St. -- less than a block from numerous busy Division Street bars and restaurants, police said.

At 12:37 a.m., a 24-year-old man was shot at 7935 S. Cottage Grove Ave, according to police, who said the shooting appears to have been over a $15 debt.

About 12:50 a.m. Thursday, a male was shot in the leg during an argument with a person he knew in the 3500 block of South Western Avenue, police said.

Near northwest side, southwest side, south side--this violence is everywhere and spreading. I don't know what the answer is--but I do know that the Earned Income Tax Credit and community college are not it. This is a class problem and requires a class solution.

 
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Jason / July 16, 2009 1:44 PM

Lets be honest. The crime is mostly limited to the west side and the south side. We live in a big city, there's going to be shootings elsewhere every so often... I honestly can't remember the last time I read about one on the north side that didn't involve Rogers Park.

There are parts of the city that are cesspools and there are parts that are just fine. The Wire isn't just a TV show in Baltimore... it's the ganglands of Chicago too.

Dennis Fritz / July 16, 2009 1:55 PM


Sorry, but this is pure hyperbole.

I have lived in Chicago my entire life, and can tell you the crime rate is FAR lower today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Look it up. For example, back in 1974, almost 1000 people were murdered in the city. Last year, the total was just a bit over half that. So the murder rate plunges almost 50%, yet this writer compares Chicago neighborhoods "killing fields?"

No one would deny Chicago has some rough areas. But the real source of this crime hysteria are demographic changes the city has undergone as a result of gentrification.

Chicago is no longer the City of Big Shoulders. More and more, Chicago is becoming the City of Grande Lattes. The yuppie invasion has flooded the city with people who grew up in affluent, segregated suburbs where crime rates were abnormally LOW. These folks are confronting some of the world's harsh realities for the first time, and they are scared to death.

All I have to say is: welcome to the real world!

Francis / July 16, 2009 3:44 PM

Dennis, the crime rates may be much lower than they were 20-30 years ago, but that doesn't mean they're not increasing. It's as silly to dismiss current violence in comparison to the 1970s as it would be to compare it to the 1930s.

Ramsin / July 16, 2009 3:54 PM

Hyperbole is a fair critique--that's the visceral reaction when there are constant reports of violent crimes, I guess.

The vast majority of Chicagoans will not be murdered, or be victims of crime; and its true that entire areas of the city are unfairly stigmatized as urban jungles. So in that sense, you're right, Dennis. And I remember the days of the crack epidemic, when everybody feared the El Rukns, and the murder count hovered up near a thousand--up around 900+.

Still, Chicago's murder rate is three times higher than that of New York and higher than that of Los Angeles; higher than Houston; Chicago's GDP is the fourth highest for a city on the planet; higher than Paris', yet our violent crime is much higher than comparably rich cities. The only cities with higher murder rates are cities that are much, much poorer than Chicago. For a city that generates so much wealth, why do we have a violent crime rate commensurate with cities considerably poorer than our own?

Comparing Chicago, 2009 to Chicago, 1974, is somewhat specious. Looking at the rate over several decades is less meaningful than looking at it over a handful of years; and comparing the violence here with violence in cities of comparable size and wealth is much better standard, unless you believe that geographic location has a greater correlation to violent street crime than demographic characteristics.

Some 600,000 people have left Chicago since the early 1970s, and poverty and unemployment rates, and the attendant crime rates, have trickled out of the city and into the suburbs. Diffusing the violence into neighborhoods in suburbs right on the edge of the city is not just a change in perception by the class of gentry that have come into the city.

Petty crime is a feature of big cities, I agree with you totally. The only way to develop any sense of street smarts and survival instinct is to be repeatedly put in situations where you have to deal with potential dangers.

If you want to live in a big city, be prepared to be mugged, have your car or home broken into, and be harassed by the occasional crazy. Violent deaths happening at a rate considerably higher than that of similar and larger sized cities, and much higher than cities of comparable wealth, is something else entirely.

Every new generation meets violence for the first time at one point, and are scared to death. Isn't it worse that some people have to get hardened to violence as kids? Isn't that the whole problem, that violence persists at unusually high rates--by standards comparing it to places of similar wealth or size--and forces some kids to "deal with it" and others to be wholly sheltered from it?

In summary, comparable Western cities, either by size or wealth, generally don't see this level of violent crime, particularly murders. That it has been worse in distant or recent memory doesn't mean the rate of violence is insignificant or a matter of perception rather than material reality.

Dennis Fritz / July 16, 2009 4:31 PM


Let me clarify: I am not dismissing the fact crime is a problem in Chicago. I have lived most of my life in Rogers Park, which has one of the higher crime rates on the North Side. I know what I am talking about.

What alarms me is that the fear of crime and the reality of it have become disconnected. Crime rates rise and fall. Fear of crime, however, increases steadily regardless. Moreover, people who live in areas where crime rates are low are just as fearful as those who live in high crime areas. And that is not just a Chicago phenomenon. As urban historian Mike Davis once wrote, "surveys show Milwaukee suburbanites are just as worried about violent crime as inner-city Washingtonians, despire a twenty-fold difference in relative levels of mayhem."

The drop in crime rates over time I referenced was not confined to Chicago. All through the 1990s, cities all over America saw their crimes rates hit 30 or sometimes 40 year lows. This failed to make a so much as a dent in people's perceptions of danger.

Why Chicago has a crime rate higher than that of many cities of similar size is an interesting question. I don't know the answer. But if you put a gun to my head (no pun intended), I'd guess we have greater levels of inequality than many other cities. Gentrification has also made this problem much worse.

Back in the early 1990s, I lived in Uptown. I saw my rent increase by 50% in just two years. Needless to say, my income did not rise 50% in two years. By the time I and most of my neighbors left for cheaper diggs, the only people left in Uptown were the nouneau riche and the desperately poor--an explosive combination.

At any rate, I wholly agree with I think is Ramsin's basic argument: that this is a social justice problem, not a social control problem. Sadly, people who see it that way are in the minority.

Zach / July 17, 2009 10:42 AM

According to the U.S. Department of Justice web site, across the nation there were 466.9 violent crimes per 100,000 people and 5.6 murders/100,000 people. That's the national average. In Chicago, there were 1,267.4 violent crimes per 100,000 people and 15.7 murders. That's nearly three times the national average in both categories.

So whereas, Dennis would like to write off our fear of violent crime as either irrational or unnecessary, because we're yuppies who come from places "where crime rates were abnormally LOW," I would argue that this fear and perhaps even this hyperbole is a good thing, if it leads us to action.

When violence becomes an accepted fact of where you live, as it doubtlessly has in a handful of neighborhoods across Chicago, the crime and murder rates are only likely to continue to rise.

A fear of violent acts is a rational and necessary part of life, if we become too desensitized to the violence, then we'll end up right back where we were 35 years ago.

Dennis Fritz / July 17, 2009 3:59 PM

Fear and hyperbole are bad because they lead to bad policy decisions. Frightened, angry people don't just want to be safe. They want to make the people who make them feel unsafe (read: blacks, Latinos, low-income people) suffer. Three-strikes laws, the death penalty, racial profiling, the shredding of constitutional protections--all represent attempts by politicians to pander to a fearful, angry public. These measures have done nothing to make us safer. They have, however, created a situation where people are as likely to be regarded as criminals because of who they are as for what they've done.

And by the way, there are neighborhoods in Chicago where high crime rates are "accepted." The people living in high-crime areas are among the most vocal about the problem. I urge you to go out and talk to some of them.

Dennis Fritz / July 17, 2009 4:46 PM

The above should read "there are NO neighborhoods in Chicago where high crimes rates are 'accepted.'" Sorry about that.

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