Saturday, December 31, 2016

Why Chicago Kills

As we shall support later in this blog, younger (vs. older) gang members – when left to their own devices – are much more likely to resort to violence, particularly gun violence, as their first instinct against even lower level perceived threats. Lacking life experience or the calmness that settles on older players, these young perpetrators are also more likely to need to prove their toughness than are established gang leaders. Thus, cities where gang leaders are older tend to have lower gang-related murder rates. But that sure isn’t Chicago, where older gang leaders have disproportionately been swept off the streets over the last two years to face very long sentences, including a huge number of life sentences.
 “And, as of [early 2016], the Cook County sheriff's office reported that nearly 6,000 of the estimated 8,200 detainees in the county jail — 73 percent — are black. Hispanic detainees make up about 16 percent and whites 10 percent. Those numbers underscore a national trend: the probability of incarceration among black men ages 18 to 34 is three times greater than the probability for white men, experts say.” Chicago Tribune, February 15, 2016.
 As Illinois and Chicago governmental budgetary deficits mount, youth diversionary programs, job-training, social programs and governmental efforts at stemming the massive rise in gang-drive murders have been paired to the bone or, even more frequently, shut down entirely. There just aren’t even enough police officers to handle the volume. Murder rates were significantly lower in 2014 (the lowest rates since 1965), but as austerity has increased, 2015 (488 homicides) and 2016 (skyrocketing to 750 with over 3,500 shootings) have been brutal.
 “Chicago had more criminal homicides this year than New York and Los Angeles combined, despite having fewer residents than either city. Los Angeles had 288 through mid-December, up slightly from last year, and New York had 325, a decline from 2015. Still, Chicago’s per capita murder rate remains much lower than in several smaller cities, such as St. Louis and Baltimore.” New York Times, December 28th.
 The December 27th Business Times notes that, as a result of the shortage of qualified officers, the number of arrests in 2016 dropped even as Chicago’s murder rate has hit a new high: “Arrests in Chicago, Illinois, were down 28 percent from last year. Police issued roughly 50,000 arrests through mid-December of this year compared to 69,000 in 2015. The city is also on track to have the lowest number of arrests since 2001, the Chicago Sun-Times reported [12/24]… Chicago’s up-to-date arrest total in 2016 is less than half of the number made in 2010; the year prior to current Mayor Rahm Emanuel taking office.” More homicides and fewer arrests? Whoa!
 For too many black males living in the inner city, where the violence is concentrated, there are no real alternatives to gang membership. Raised with dangerous and sub-par public schools in neighborhoods surrounded with drugs and death, “A report from University of Illinois at Chicago [from January 2016] showed that 47 percent of 20- to 24-year-old black men in the city were unemployed and out of school, a trend that is part of a decline in youth employment across all races and ethnicities.” Chicago Tribune. And convicted felons (of which there are many among inner city black males), particularly with incomplete educations, don’t get decent jobs… or even jobs.
With older gang leaders gone, Chicago’s gangs are increasingly run by the new shot-callers: teenagers. The city has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of murders-begetting long sentences even among teens (tried as adults) – putting more teens at the helm of local gangs. It’s a vicious cycle. And younger perpetrators tend to resort to violence a whole lot faster than older gang members:
 “It's long been said that violence begets violence, but a new study published Tuesday [12/20] in the American Journal of Public Health has found that it's especially contagious among teens.
 “Researchers pored through data taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, an extensive survey of more than 90,000 children in grades 7 to 12 that first began in 1994. They keyed in on a smaller group of in-depth interviews conducted every few years, allowing the researchers to track the social networks of nearly 6,000 children. What they found was that kids were more likely to participate in violence in the last 12 months if either their friends or siblings were also violent.
 “‘We now have evidence that shows how important social relationships are to spreading violent behavior, just like they are for spreading many other kinds of attitudes and behaviors,’ study author Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State, said in a statement.”, December 24th.
 Chicago has become a perfect storm of ultra-violence in becoming the U.S. city with the greatest number of homicides in the country: fewer cops, fewer youth diversionary programs, drastic declines in the quality of inner city public education, ever-younger gang leaders with a much greater propensity to gun violence and a complete unwillingness by both state and municipal governments to take the necessary steps – which does take money – to reverse the trend. Shooting someone has thus slowly developed into the “mandatory first response ethos” for Chicago’s inner city. It has become the gang code “we all live by” in the Windy City. Dis me and I will kill you. Even if I was wrong in my perception. Screw the bystanders.
 We are seeing parallel trends developing elsewhere – Baltimore or St. Louis (where murder rates are higher), anyone? – that suggest as we ignore a problem or impose solutions we think might stem the violent tide (like increasing incarceration rates for older gang members), we can make things a whole lot worse. At first, we called our actions a “war on drugs,” but when drug dealing became one of the few ways so many unemployed inner city residents could make a living, it actually became a war on blacks instead.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we seem paralyzingly committed to “solutions” and slogans that only make things worse without being able to reverse course to apply programs and strategies that just might make things better.

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