MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Thursday the 6th of August, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: a spike in violence in America’s cities.
On July 21st, 15 people were shot outside a funeral home in Chicago. The funeral was for a victim of another shooting the week before.
The month of July was Chicago’s deadliest in almost 30 years. But the Windy City isn’t the only metropolis plagued by violence this summer.
BASHAM: Crime statistics from the nation’s 50 largest cities show homicides are up this year by almost 25 percent. The summer months tend to be more violent than the rest of the year, but this season has been unusually deadly. WORLD’s Anna Johansen reports on what’s behind the trend.
DONOVAN PRICE: Two people shot here, early evening. I don’t know, the ambulances aren’t leaving, so that might not be a good sign.
ANNA JOHANSEN: Donovan Price calls himself a first responder, but he’s not the traditional kind. He’s a street pastor.
PRICE: Father, you know the situation. Your will, Heavenly Father please let these people be okay, to see another day…
When a person is shot in Chicago, Price is one of the first people on the scene. His goal is to minister to the victim’s family, friends, and community. Sometimes he posts realtime videos on his website as he prays out loud.
PRICE: God bless tonight, God please bless this city and let this city be at peace tonight.
This summer, there have been few nights of peace in Chicago or in any of the major cities across the United States. In Chicago, in the month of July, killings were up almost 140 percent compared to last year. In New York, it was almost 180 percent. Other cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, Omaha, and Phoenix all rose at double-digit rates.
Lance Williams teaches urban community studies at Northeastern Illinois University. He says violence in Chicago is nothing new, but this summer has been different. He flags a couple of main contributing factors.
WILLIAMS: There has been a difference in policing. There’s been this heavy criticism directed at law enforcement, for being a racist and being brutal right in the community. And it’s having an impact on how in particular the regular rank and file police officers feel.
Williams says police officers are too afraid or too angry to intervene, so sometimes they aren’t stopping crime. Even minor things. Data from the Chicago police department show that traffic stops in June dropped by 86 percent. Williams says he saw it firsthand on his block the same morning we talked: A couple of cars running red lights, going 70 in a 25. A police officer posted on the corner did nothing about it.
WILLIAMS: And so now we see guys who are just, you know, they don’t fear being stopped by the police. They feel like they can do whatever they want to do.
Dan Schober is a professor of public health at DePaul University. He also works with a Chicago gun violence research program and he says this trend isn’t new.
SCHOBER: We saw a similar trend in 2016 when there was a lot of discussion about police. It seems like when there’s big events that put a lot of scrutiny on the police and law enforcement, there tends to be a change in violence that happens.
More violence and less trust in the police. That makes it really hard for officers to do their jobs. Schober says that’s reflected in Chicago’s clearance rate—the number of cases the police are able to solve.
SCHOBER: Arrest rates after a shooting is less than 50 percent. And I think a lot of that goes back to how well can the police address and work with a community who has a better sense of what goes on day to day?
It’s not just the protests shaking things up. Coronavirus lockdowns have destabilized a lot of social structures. Churches, schools, and community organizations have all been sidelined for months. Institutions that infuse communities with a sense of hope are just gone.
Lance Williams points to another factor that might be contributing to the spike in violence. In March and April, Chicago officials worried about COVID-19 spreading in overcrowded areas so they released over 1,000 inmates from the city’s largest jail. New York City used a similar tactic.
Williams says releasing those prisoners wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself. They weren’t in jail for violent crimes. But he says officials should have handled the process differently.
WILLIAMS: You cannot just empty out the jails and dump the people back into the community with no resources, no support, no nothing.
Chris Butler is a pastor at Chicago Embassy Church. He says it’s important to look beyond the big picture to the individual.
BUTLER: The brokenness, the soul, deep brokenness, that has to be in a person to be the perpetrator of this kind of violence. We also have to think as a human society, about how do folks, so many folks, get this way? And what can we do about those things?
Years ago, Butler started a type of street outreach he calls “positive loitering.”
BUTLER: We would go out very late on Fridays and just hang out shine lights, you know, flashlights and car light, candle lights, all that kind of stuff, we’ll be playing and just kind of hang to fill up spaces where negative things will usually happen with positive activity.
It was just one small thing. And Butler knows there will never be a magic cure for this kind of societal sickness. But he hopes Christians will realize they have part of the cure.
BUTLER: Those of us who, who name the name of Christ and participate in the church, and in any level, you know, we are called to this.
Butler recommends asking two questions: What do I have the capacity to do? And what is God calling me to do? Then do those things.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen.