The Best and Worst of Times for Stopping Violence in Chicago

Throw together a few figures to explain what’s happening in the US today and you’ll catch an distorted image seen from afar without any details.

The  details matter because they explain the differences.

It’s the same when we think about Chicago and especially about violence here.

Here’s why this matters. This is from Daniel Hertz, a blogger and master’s student at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

“So: Yes, the great Crime Decline is a fickle thing. The North Side saw huge decreases (in Rogers Park, it was over 80%) pretty much everywhere; the few areas that are lighter green were the safest in the city to begin with. The parts of the South and West Sides closest to downtown – Bronzeville, the West Loop, Pilsen, etc. – got a lot safer. But most of the rest actually got worse, including some neighborhoods that were already among the most dangerous in the city, like Englewood and Garfield Park.

This is a complicated state of affairs, and probably goes at least part of the way to explaining why, in the face of a 50% decrease in homicides citywide over the last two decades, many people persist in believing that the opposite is true: because in their neighborhoods, it is. It’s a dynamic that defies an easy narrative, and makes me slightly less angry (though only slightly) at all those journalists who have written in the last year or two about murder in Chicago without mentioning that the city is, in fact, safer on the whole than it has been in fifty years.”

Greg Hinz, writing in Crain’s Chicago Business, picks up on the points made in the blog and strongly amplifies them. He writes:

“It illustrates as well as anything I’ve seen how Chicago truly has become two cities on that most basic of issues: public safety, and particularly the homicide rate.

Mr. Hertz compares the murder rate in 1990-93, when there already were wide divergences among city neighborhoods, to that in 2008-11.

Citywide, as the crack epidemic eased, the murder rate dropped by nearly half, to 17 per 100,000 residents in the latter period from 30 in the former, Mr. Hertz reports. But the differences varied dramatically: Almost every neighborhood north of Hyde Park (except for Austin) saw a decline, but many areas south and west of there suffered an even higher number of murders.

As a result, almost all of the North Side and much of the Northwest Side now have murder rates of 3.3 per 100,000 people — on par with Toronto, and better than New York, where rates have plummeted. But not in Austin and much of the South Side, where annual murder rates of 40 per 100,000 are not uncommon.

Change in Chicago’s homicide rate, early 90s to late 2000s. The areas in darkest green saw the greatest decline (as much as 80 percent); red means the murder rate increased.

That’s as stark as it gets, with all sorts of implications for the people who have to live in those areas. 

“Any semblance of a normal curve has been annihilated,” Mr. Hertz writes. In the early ’90s, the most dangerous third of the city had about six times as many murders as the safest third, (51 per 100,000, compared with 9.4 per 100,000.) By the late 2000s, the most dangerous part of the city had nearly 15 times more homicides, 39 per 100,000 compared with 2.7.

Fifteen times!?!

“The disadvantages that are accruing to already disadvantaged neighborhoods in terms of lost population, investment and connections to the rest of the city now are much more severe,” he says. “The hurdles are that much higher. That’s bad for those physical neighborhoods. It’s also terrible for the people who have good reasons to live there, like social networks, nearby family or the affordability of real estate.”

There’s a word for that: inequality. Inequality because no one wants to live in a neighborhood 15 times as dangerous as one a few miles away.

Mr. Hertz’s post “is pretty consistent with patterns all around the county of increased inequality,” says Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “Even in New York, there still are some really dangerous neighborhoods.”

But in Chicago, she adds, the departure of roughly 200,000 African-Americans in the past decade accentuates the problem. For those remaining behind, “people are at much greater risk.” The implication is that those who were able to flee, generally law-abiding folks of means, did so. Those who remained were poorer, and perhaps more desperate.

Overall, Mr. Hertz’s statistics are a good thing for most of the city. I and more than a million others live on the North Side and in adjacent areas, and they’re as safe as any other patches of urban real estate in the country.

But others not only have been left behind but are in increasing trouble. That is not good and it is not right. The question is what we and our government leaders will do about it.”

here’s the link to his column:

It’s important to recognize these folks are saying because it helps carlos3focus our discussion and our reporting.

If we recognize that violence is a storm that hovers over a few black and Latino communities, we can look at why that is so and what needs to be done. We can also step back too and look at what separates us so greatly in this city.

But if we insist on looking at Chicago as a whole, we’ll continue to ignore terrible realities that have only grown worse in time.

And maybe then we can look at ways to nurture communities. This is nothing new, as this New York Times story points out.

But it will help us to get on with the rest of what we have to do, which is report on the solutions.

If you’ve done any reporting or writing about this, please share it with us. And if you want to add your voice to our discussion here, please speak up.

Talk to me. or call me at the office 312 369 6400.

steve franklin




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