Persisting violence in Chicago

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 14th of August, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Chicago is once again making headlines, and not in a good way. The first week of August saw at least 70 people shot; 12 died. In the days following, police were unable to track down any of the shooters.

Residents say the city feels like a warzone. They’ve come up with a name for it, blending Chicago and Iraq. The locals pronounce it Chiraq.

REICHARD: Chicago is only number 10 on the list of most dangerous cities in the United States, but Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says he’s tired of the ongoing violence.

JOHNSON: Everybody in this city should be tired of it. You should be able to gather on your block and have a block club party without the fear of being gunned down.

REICHARD: Chicagoland native Anna Johansen is here to talk about this. Anna, get us up to speed on what’s been happening recently.

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: Well, August got off to a rough start in Chicago. That Sunday saw the most victims shot in a single day than any other day in the past seven years. Most of the violence is concentrated in a few neighborhoods on the west and south sides of the city. In those neighborhoods, people say it’s normal to hear gunfire just down the street or in their backyard. One man has a garden hose that now leaks because it has a bunch of bullet holes in it.

REICHARD: What’s instigating the violence?

JOHANSEN: Well, there are a lot of layers to that answer. I talked to Roberta Rakove and Sharon Homan to get their perspective. They work with a research collaborative that is investigating gun violence in Chicago. One of the things they’ve found is that in these communities, there’s a high incarceration rate for men, so many of these homes don’t have fathers. And there are other factors. High unemployment, racial tension, intergenerational gangs…

REICHARD: What’s the more immediate cause?

JOHANSEN: A lot of the violence comes from gang disputes. Not gang disputes about territory or anything like that, but insults on social media. Some people will insult a rival gang on Twitter, and they’ll include their location just to prove how tough they are. One teen…Jose Alvarez…posted a video of himself insulting another gang. This was over Memorial Day weekend. Later that night, he was shot and his friend killed while they were out driving. That kind of thing starts a vicious cycle. Gang members retaliate, and it just keeps going.

REICHARD: What are police doing about it?

JOHANSEN: Well, they’re tracking social media for one thing. After he was shot, Jose said he thought the shooters would probably brag about it on Snapchat or Twitter. Police can check for gang ties or grudges that explain violence…or could instigate violence.

They also have software that identifies people who are likely to shoot someone or be shot. Most shootings involve a pretty small group of people. Of all the 70 plus victims shot over the first weekend in August, almost all of them were on that list. 80 percent of them.

REICHARD: But the police weren’t able to track down the shooters, right? At least during the first crucial days after the shootings. Why is that?

JOHANSEN: The bottom line is, people don’t trust police officers. There was a recent poll where 50 percent of Chicagoans said calling the police would either make no difference or would make things worse. So victims drive themselves to the hospital instead of calling for help. Witnesses who saw a shooting claim they don’t remember anything.

That means that Chicago has a really low clearance rate for murders. That’s the number of cases that end with an arrest or a suspect. In 2017, police only solved 17 percent of the city’s murder cases. So people feel like they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

REICHARD: What kind of things should they be doing?

JOHANSEN: A lot of people think the police force needs to focus on building relationships with the community. I love what Kim Foxx had to say about this. She’s the State’s Attorney for Cook County. She said the level of attention people receive outside of tragedies has to be equal to when a tragedy happens. “We can’t just show up when we think you are going to be a witness to a crime.” She says law enforcement ought to be visible; they ought to be around; they ought to be at block parties.

They need to build relationships, because law enforcement after a shooting can only do so much. There needs to be a fix at a deeper level.

REICHARD: Thanks for the report, Anna.

JOHANSEN: Thanks, Mary.

(Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) In this Aug. 5, 2018 photo, police investigate the scene where multiple people were shot in Chicago. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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