Crime’s Mirage – Getting the Facts



Violence haunts us.

But sometimes it is the image and not the reality that haunts us more.

The Pilsen Portal, a local news website, recently took on the challenge of separating truth from image in an excellent example of community reporting.

It asked whether their community is as crime-ridden as some say.

Here is an explanation of what it found and why it matters:

“So is Pilsen Under the Gun?

“The answer is both a “yes” and a “no.” Considering the amount of shootings we have had so far, it’s surprising to see that homicides are low. The neighborhood has changed quite significantly especially when you compare it to how it was more than 15-years ago. On paper, Pilsen is a relatively safe neighborhood but with hot spots of violent activity remaining. The data indicates that Pilsen does in fact have a high number of violent crimes. Since the beginning of this year, there have been 28 shootings and 2 homicides in Pilsen. However, these numbers are no different than those of Logan Square. This neighborhood is similar to Pilsen as it used to be a predominantly working-class Latino community but that over the last 10 years has experienced great changes due to gentrification. This year, Logan Square has had 4 homicides and 20 shootings, while in Humboldt Park there have been a total of 5 homicides and 49 shootings to-date.”

So, what do you do as a community after you’ve digested the facts?

Again, the Pilsen Portal provided an answer.

Luiz Magana wrote:

“A myriad of solutions can be offered as this issue is layered with so much complexity.

“However, as a community trying to work towards peace, we must first educate ourselves and understand what the data means and how is it connected to violence. This can help shape the way we see our community and ourselves and what resources are needed to create a safer community.

“In part two of this series, we will see what organizations and community leaders are doing to combat the violence.”

Read the full report here. 

Indeed, as we tell the story of violence, we need to tell the whole story.

We need to not just bring to life the stories of the victims, but we need also to put these tragedies into context.


By telling as much about these tragedies as possible: What have the police learned and what have they done about the crimes? What’s happening in the courts? And who are the people who have committed these crimes?

Providing this information is important because it makes the community part of the criminal justice system. It helps people see what’s happening and encourages them not to withdraw out of fear or frustration, but to stay connected and concerned.

And, ultimately, providing this kind of information about the victims and those who carry out the crimes, helps us to see the larger picture — the toll of violence and the possible solutions.

In this recent article by Laura Damico, a reporter in Washington, D.C., who began one of the first homicide watch projects for a newspaper, she writes about why this is very important:

“Unfortunately, most people do not have any real understanding of the general workings of the criminal justice system, much less have the ability to keep up with any individual case,” a former DC murder prosecutor once told me. “That goes for the victim’s family, the defendant’s family, and the public at large. Strangely, the victims’ families, the defendants’ families and the general public (as potential victims and/or defendants) often simultaneously feel ‘the system’ is stacked against them

“This is the problem Homicide Watch set out to answer. We build, through daily reporting and data collection, a common foundation for understanding crime and the criminal justice system. We create a structure for individual stories (a profile page for every victim and every suspect) so it’s possible to understand at any moment where a case stands, whether it remains unsolved or a suspect has stood trial, and what the outcome of that trial is. We post court documents, provide the names and contact information of detectives assigned to cases, and keep a public calendar of upcoming hearings, so the community can watch cases progress and participate when they need to.”

So, if you are doing this kind of reporting, what’s your experience in gathering this information? Are you doing the kind of reporting we are talking about here?

And how about the larger question: Does it make a difference if the community knows all the facts about the violence it faces? Or does the community just need to see the images?

Before you go, take a look at this video from the Resurrection Project on community efforts to stop violence. A great first step in terms of using video to send a message.


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