Friday, September 28, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Double shooting between 60th/61st and Cottage

At 10:45 AM, two young men were shot while standing in front of an apartment complex in between 60th and 61st Street on Cottage Grove. One of the victims was hit in the chest, the other in the lower back. Witnesses reported seeing the two other men fleeing the scene on bicycles.,0,7968097.story

The Tribune photo confirms that this incident actually took place at 60th and Cottage and not somewhere ten blocks south; the green dumpster in the parking lot, the one resting in front of a stairwell, is the same as in the apartment complex. So unlike my last report on UChicago area crime, this one won't be based on bad facts.

Although the UCPD issued no statement or notification regarding the incident, an argument could be made that it was not their responsibility. The shooting is outside of the UCPD patrol area. The victims are in no way affiliated with the University. The crime itself was reported to the CPD through a 911 call, not through the UCPD through our internal University number. These facts might suggest that our police force had no obligation to inform about this attack.

All of these arguments have the same problem: They are all technical, bureaucratic justifications for an oversight that could have very real, human consequences. Yes, the complex is outside of the patrol. But our campus officially "ends" on the east side of Cottage. The shooting happened on the west side of the street. Those 25 yards of concrete should not make a difference when it comes to safety. Similarly, even though the UCPD (presumably) has no involvement in the investigation, it still has a duty to inform community members of incidents that might threaten our safety.

61st and Cottage is not as remote an intersection as the University might have you believe. The #4 Bus has a stop right on the west side of Cottage, coming from downtown. This bus provides direct service from Michigan Avenue in the Loop straight to 61st and Cottage; a great way to get back to campus, especially if you live in the South Dorm. Similarly, numerous hospital and human resources employees use either the bus or train stops on Cottage. Employees in the area would undoubtedly appreciate some warning about criminal activity that could imperil their commute. Moreover, the #59 route goes right down 61st, passing through the intersection in question. I know for a fact that residents of the South Campus Dorm use that bus for transit to and from the Red Line. Students out on the town could make safer transportation decisions if they knew of local violence.

There is a clear objection to all of my above arguments. Some of you might already be thinking it: "How are shootings, presumably between criminals and/or gang members, going to threaten UChicago students?" There is some truth to this rebuttal. Gunmen care more about Rahm Emanuel's WiFi plans for Millennium Park than they do for UChicago students. You could dress a group of students in the colors of every Latino gang in the city, roll them into West Englewood, and the worst thing that would happen would be a lot of sad laughter and shaking heads (and maybe some stolen iPhones). When it comes to firearm battery, like today's incident, UChicago students will never be targeted.

The danger is not in being a target. The danger is in being nearby. Criminals, whether shooting for a gang, for a girlfriend, or for a dispute, are lousy shots. In Chicago, it is almost as dangerous to be a bystander than it is to be an actual target. Most attackers have as much firearms training as they give you in Call of Duty or Halo. Even if they are better prepared, shooters regularly load up on alcohol and drugs to psyche themselves up for their attack. Or they were just incidentally intoxicated to begin with. Either way, most shooters today are about as accurate as a Stormtrooper.

Whenever a shooting happens, a retaliatory shooting will likely follow. Police never know where that shooting will take place. They can make some guesses, but they won't know until it actually happens. You do not want to be in the area when a retaliatory shooting occurs. When tempers are high, accuracy is low. THIS is the danger that even UChicago students can face in violent engagements.

My mother has more old sayings than those inspirational books you see in pharmacies, and this is one of my favorites. In the case of the UCPD, a small notification can potentially prevent some serious harm. Yes, it might look bad for the University. Yes, it might cause undue panic amongst the naive first-years (and fourth years for that matter) who have no idea how Chicago's crime works. If, however, it reduces the chance for student endangerment, then it is probably worth those costs.

Certain crimes actually target students and UChicago community members. Robbery, burglary, theft, sexual assault, vandalism, etc. Other crimes, like aggravated battery with a firearm, do not. But you don't need to be a target to be a victim. Being nearby a shooting is almost as bad as being involved in one. 60th and Cottage is close enough to campus that some students and employees could be in that area if, or when, a retaliation occurs. Better communication can help inform the community and better insure its safety. The UCPD does a great job patrolling and preventing crime, but even an effective organization can find room to improve its practices.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Techniques: Static Rear Headlock/Naked Choke Defense

With the rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and mixed martial art training, grappling techniques have become increasingly common in personal altercations. At an untrained glance, MMA fights are the closest thing to a street engagement that you can watch from the safety of your chair. People imagine that the average alley or barroom brawl is identical to a romp in the octagon, complete with gritty takedowns and manly ground and pound action. You don't need to be a combat veteran to tell that UFC broadcasts are woefully inadequate predictors of engagement realities (with weapons, clothing, outdoor surfaces, multiple attackers, weather conditions, and weight disparities all absent from the ring). But because UFC conforms to a vision of a street fight, attackers will still use MMA moves in combat. And in my experience, there is no move more popular or emblematic of this new fighting style than the rear naked choke.

Everyone has seen the move before. Stand behind your opponent and embrace their throat with the crook of your elbow. Lock in your choking side hand to the joint of your other arm. Pass that other arm behind the opponent's skull and press them deeper into the headlock. One arm pulls on the trachea, the other pushes their head deeper into the hold. For the martial artist, it is one of the scariest positions you can find yourself in, and one that demands a solid defense.

This particular technique won't work in your rolling sessions, but it will work when it matters most. It relies on the principal of "short circuiting"; causing intense pain to weaken an enemy's hold and give you an opportunity to break free. Yes, there are counters to the rear headlock that do not rely on strikes. Those 'defenses', however, are better suited to a jujitsu class than to a fight for your life. Moreover, many of them won't work against larger foes. Should you find yourself in such a position outside of your gym, you won't need to worry about partner preservation, safety, or athletic commission regulations. Your primary goal is to escape, and to get there, you need to cause damage. Anyone who attacks you outside of your gym with this choke is more than deserving of any injuries you inflict

Rear naked chokes are a venerable martial technique. Hercules used it to strangle the beast of Nemea. Knights and samurai learned it to dispatch armored foes in the event of a broken or lost sword. Native Americans 'counted crow' by choking out enemy sentries. Contemporary special forces use it as a quick, silent kill. Whatever its context, this headlock remains a devastating move that often works irrespective of size or strength. 8-10 seconds is long enough to render anyone unconscious, provided that you have actually cut off air/blood flow with your arm. Any longer and you risk permanent injury or death. A punch probably won't murder, unless its target falls on their head. The same goes for a tackle or kick. A choke like this, however, can easily deprive all oxygen and blood to a target's brain. The end result is permanent neurological damage. Or death.

An attacker who uses a rear naked chokes are more dangerous than those who just slug and mug. He thinks that he is tough, and he has the moves to try and prove it. Maybe he wrestled or grappled. Maybe he just watched too much UFC. Even worse, maybe he actually knows what he is doing. Whether he is well-trained or just plain violent, the choker is a dire threat above and beyond a simple brawler.

That 8-10 second period is your window of survival. If it closes, you will lose the fight. You might lose more, depending on your assailant's intent. While he chokes you, the attacker might try and drag you to another location or topple you to the ground. His pal might pummel you and reach for your wallet or waistband. But these dangers are secondary to strangulation. Do not envision an opponent who is roughly your weight and strength. Do not pretend that your neck muscles will be clenched in anticipation of the hold. Imagine a forearm as big as your thigh clamping around your neck like a junkyard car-compressor. Imagine a violent application of force that teeters you to your toes. You will be off balance and already gasping for air. You might very well see the black curtain start to intrude on your vision. It is under these disastrous circumstances that the defense must succeed.

  1. The rear naked choke requires the opponent to commit both arms to his attack. You won't have to worry (as much) about his other hands, unlike in other defenses. If he does only uses one arm, a more conventional headlock, the choke is itself less dangerous; he won't have the strength and leverage of a rear naked. We will assume he is using both arms for the choke. If he only uses one, the defense is identical, albeit easier.
  2. One attacker might hold you in the choke you while his partners come from the front. If you find yourself in such a gang-fight scenario, I first suggest that you reevaluate your weekend night plans. Second, and more importantly, always prioritize the choke. You can take blows to the front, but if you fall unconscious, you will have no more defensive options. 
  3. Your attacker might pull you backwards or take you to the ground after applying the choke. If that happens, your defense will change, but not so radically as to be dissimilar from this original form. This post assumes that you are not moving as they choke you. In a later technique article, I will go over the defense for the other two contingencies.
  4. This is a tough guy attack. Tough guys, or at least people who think they are tough guys, tend to be on the "built like a brick" side of the size spectrum. To simulate this reality, the smallest person in the self-defense class should be able to defend against the largest person. Train with unfair size differences in mind.
This is the Haganah version of the defense with a few modifications. I was taught to try and jam the choking arm as quickly as possible, preferably before it gets applied. In this defense, I assume that your opponent has already locked it in (or at least come close enough), adding in some back up steps to increase your safety. If you train for the worst possible scenario, your attacker can't surprise you. Another modification comes with the strike. In Haganah we train only a groin strike. You should at least have the option to throw elbows and stomps if needed, which I try and acknowledge here.

We will assume that your attacker has choked you with his right arm and is applying pressure to the back of your head with his left.
  1. You feel the arm encircle your throat. Maybe it gets locked in to the elbow. Maybe you have time to stop it. Either way, take both of your hands and reach up, grabbing hold of the choking forearm. Use a monkey grip, clamping down with just your four fingers and no thumb. One hand will be closer to their wrist, the other to their elbow. Your goal is to free your airway, just enough that you can breathe, and jam their hold. Even if you are have been rocking the Marine pullup challenge since you were 10, you probably won't be strong enough to flat out rip their arm off of your neck. You will, however, be able to exert enough leverage that they cannot squeeze tight enough for a proper choke.
  2. Squat into an athletic stance to preserve balance. It should be difficult for your attacker to push you forward or pull you down over your back. Remember the hot-feet drills you see in football practices, either from high school or movies about high school? That's roughly the stance you want to be in.
  3. As added insurance, turn your head to the left, AWAY from their choking arm elbow (Towards the hand of that arm). Tuck your chin under their forearm if you can. This further clears the airway and gives you literal breathing room.
    (Note: An objection to this step would be that it wastes time. So long as the rest of the move is executed at full speed, you shouldn't need extra airway safety. Especially with smaller defenders, and those who are unaccustomed to getting choked, the added precaution  increases their performance under stress without compromising the rest of the move. Even for more experienced students, it's nice to have extra options against particularly bulky attackers).
  4. With your right hand, keep a firm grasp on the attacker's upper forearm. Release the left hand, that which is closest to their wrist, and strike back at the attacker's groin. You can use an open-hand strike, a chop, or a closed backfist. I prefer the backfist because it has a smaller surface area, which gives your strike some piercing power against jeans and clothes.
    The goal of this strike is to cause damage and "short circuit" your attacker. If you just try and wrestle out of a headlock, the opponent will wrestle back. At best, that turns the escape into a grappling bout. At worst, you will waste energy and exhaust yourself into an even worse position. Especially if you are smaller than your enemy, chances are that he is the better wrestler, or at least bigger and stronger. The strike equalizes those disparities and gives you an extra second to work while he recovers from the hit. If the first strike does not provoke a physiological response, strike again.
    (Note: It is critical that you keep the right hand closer to his elbow when striking. Don't hold his arm at his wrist. If you do, you lose a lot of leverage and your attacker can just pull you over backwards.)
  5. Shrug up your right shoulder, pressing his choking arm against the side of your head. With your left foot, take a step backwards. This creates a gap between you and your attacker.
    (Note: The shrug is not meant to prevent an assailant from pulling his arm away. If he tugs it out of the choke, he has ended the defense for you. If, however, he wants to hold on and maintain his grip, the shrug keeps it trapped in a convenient position so you can spin into his body).
  6. Rotate towards your attacker, turning into his chest such that you face him. By shrugging your shoulder, you prevent an attacker from outmuscling your rotation. Once turned, bring up your right arm and slam your forearm into the side of his neck, grasping a fistful of the shirt on his back. Wedge that arm in tight against his carotid. With your left arm, simply curl it up and take hold of his right arm, pinning it between your forearm and our body. Grab just above his elbow joint and pull in tight. This locks out the elbow, inhibiting his mobility and strength. 
  7. From here there are a number of ways to end the engagement. The easiest: Throw a series of knees to his groin, ribs, and/or thighs and then push him out to the ground. Run, call the police, and get out of the area. There are other options, but this is probably the safest and most consistent.
Still working on those pictures. Thankfully, the first part of the defense doesn't require too much visualization. You feel the choke, you grab the forearm and jam the choke, you hold on with one hand, and you strike the groin with the other. All of this occurs while your opponent is still at your back. As to spinning into your attacker ,that's more a matter of martial preference than survival. You instead opt to throw a series of elbows and run. You could stomp down on their foot. You could kick back into their knee. You could even, with extensive drilling and practice, execute a hip or shoulder throw after you short-circuit with the groin strike. Steps 5-7 come down to preference, training, and objectives, and are thus subject to modification.

Overall, this is a critical defense in modern martial arts. Rear naked chokes are popular amongst the thugs and hoodlums most likely to start a fight. From a teaching perspective, the defense is also a great introduction to the concept of short-circuiting, an integral component of most self-defense techniques. It is the idea of guerrilla warfare as applied to micro-engagements. If your opponent is larger, stronger, or more skillful, you need to equalize your odds. Sometimes that means using a weapon. In this case, it means taking a "dirty" strike and capitalizing on the opening. Blows to the groin, the knee, the eyes, the neck, etc. are powerful tools to upset an enemy's composure and give yourself room to operate.

Remember that the ultimate test of a technique's feasibility is its effectiveness against larger attackers. My own teacher is roughly 6'3" and 220-230 lbs. If one of his students, say, one weighing in at a burly 120 lbs and a towering 5'2", can get the defense to work on him, that's a pretty solid technique. You will still need to train and program the muscle memory for a technique to work, but if the mechanics are there, then so are your chances for survival and escape.

  1. If you are the attacking partner (the one doing the choke), HONOR THE STRIKES. At full power, the groin hit will likely provoke a physiological response from your target. He will become nauseated, double over, and be in general discomfort. This pain allows you to do the rest of the escape without wrestling for it. Your partner might be tempted to "get cute" and start to wrestle around with you, as if the strike never happened. The whole point of that hit is to turn an attacker's attention away from the fight and to his pain. If you want to add in some extra damage to be safe, elbows and stomps can further guarantee you break free.
  2. One of the most important reflexes in the defense is bringing your hands up to jam the choking arm. The more the choke gets locked in, the harder it is to escape. Grabbing the forearm should become instinctual, at least with training. Develop that muscle memory through constant repetition and surprise attacks in class, the latter done under stress. For example, do a striking drill with your partner. While you work a combination on the pads, a second partner can come up behind you at random moments and clamp in the choke. Work the defense with special attention paid to the initial jamming grab. 
  3. Practice slow, steady, and smooth. Rear naked chokes are scary, even in the gym. When you feel your partner's arms close around your neck, adrenaline spikes (especially during stress drills). It is very tempting to speed up and react out of panic. Avoid this impulse. Train with deliberate slowness to counteract that temptation. A big part of any self-defense move is maintaining composure. Because rear naked chokes are so scary, it is even easier to lose that calm. 
  4. That said, learn what it feels like to execute the move against a struggling attacker. After you lock down their forearm, have your partner tug back, attempting to reapply the choke. This gives you practice in maintaining a grip. Generally, you can add as much resistance as you want to a technique so long as you don't lose precision and mechanics. If you start to get sloppy, scale it back a notch (or ten notches).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicago Crime: Murder at 65th and Woodlawn (UPDATED TO REFLECT TRIBUNE MISREPORTING)

NOTE 3: It's official. The Tribune changed its story for the third time, updating the location to 65th and Woodlawn instead of 56th and Woodlawn. That is an unbelievable typo, and I am sorry for
reporting on it. Here are screenshots of the older story and the updated one for posterity (I didn't get one of the first version, the 61st and Woodlawn one): 

OLD STORY: "56th and Woodlawn"
UPDATED STORY: "65th and Woodlawn"

NOTE 2: An anonymous poster commented that "Actually it was on 65th Street, between Kimbark and Woodlawn. Marlon then apparently drove north on Woodlawn." If this is true, that changes a lot about this crime as it relates to UChicago. The moral of the story is clear: Don't trust Tribune coverage. As the quote below shows, the Tribune claims that the shooting happened at 56th, NOT 65th. Thank you for posting this update sir/ma'am.

NOTE 1: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly identified the location of his shooting. This has been updated to reflect the correction. HERE IS THE QUOTE FROM THE TRIBUNE ARTICLE
"Marlon Lee, 36, was driving when his car came to rest shot on the 6100 block of South Woodlawn Avenue at about 10 a.m., police said. The Cook County medical Examiner's office said he was shot on the 1200 block of East 56th Street."

The incident happened earlier today, but it took longer for any substantive details to emerge. At approximately 10:00 AM, Marlon Lee was shot in the back while driving in the 1200 block of 65th Street (65th and Woodlawn). He stopped driving at 61st and Woodlawn where he waited for an ambulance. Mr. Lee was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital where he later died from his injury.,0,3570410.story

Two aspects of this story demand discussion. The first is the man himself, Mr. Marlon Lee. The second is its location just a block south of UChicago's campus (the latter of which is no longer relevant, in light of the location changes). 

Readers might have already heard about this story under a different headline : Former CeaseFire worker shot and killed, or something to that effect. Marlon Lee did once work for CeaseFire, and if the Tribune article is any indication, he still had some affiliations with the organization and its members. It is tempting to play up this aspect of the story, whether out of some sense of stupid irony or an equally boorish sense of sensationalism. Insofar as it is a tragedy to lose such a good man, I agree; his line of work needs to be mentioned. But if it is to tarnish the hiring practices of CeaseFire for employing "criminals", then I would just encourage you to reevaluate your understanding of Chicago's streets.

Mr. Lee's murder probably had nothing to do with his CeaseFire work. Moreover, any exemplary work that he conducted while a member of CeaseFire should not be marred by his 2012 murder. Maybe he remained gang involved. Perhaps he got in an argument earlier in the week. He might even have started the argument and ensured that it escalated to violence. There are any number of explanations for his death, and the police can investigate them as much as they want. But those same reasons that he might have died for made him an ideal candidate for CeaseFire work in life. His experiences and perspective equipped him to handle the lost, young men of present-day Chicago. I

Should you want to mourn the death of a social service agent then I shall mourn alongside you. If politics or dining-room-table ignorance motivate you to criticize or question, then I encourage you to walk the neighborhoods before you run your mouth.

University of Chicago community members have a much more immediate takeaway from this tragedy; serious violence happens very close to campus. It happens at all times of day and in all parts of Hyde Park. The UCPD are not always there, even if they optimize patrol routes and have all cars on deployment. Students will never be targeted by attacks like that against Mr. Lee (unless they are moonlighting by Breaking Bad). You might, however, be present in the crossfire of a violent incident. Awareness and caution can help you avoid that situation entirely, or at least survive if it happens.

Speaking of the UCPD, I am a bit annoyed that we did not receive an email about this earlier today. This sort of attack is exactly the sort of thing that community members need to know about. What if Mr. Lee's attacker lived only a few blocks away? What if Mr. Lee's friends rallied to retaliated against that attacker who lived but a few blocks away? Details are currently sketchy in the case, but if the shooting did occur at 56th and Woodlawn like the article suggests, this is a major thoroughfare through which students travel. UChicago CTA routes travel down this street. I don't want to be alarmist, but that information seems pertinent to the hundreds of students who might be traveling around this area. The UCPD has a duty to inform us about incidents like this, especially given its location.

That said, I completely understand why they did not send an email. If I were UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch I probably wouldn't have sent it either. For one, Marlon Lee was not a student. The people who attacked Mr. Lee probably didn't get hungry and stop at South Campus Subway for a bite to eat afterwards. In that sense, the shooting was unlikely to affect students (although as I said before, a retaliatory shooting might).

Moreover, this is O-Week at UChicago. New students get their first taste of campus life, with its stimulating conversations, awkward parties, rigorous curriculum, and random violent crimes. The last thing a nervous first-year wants to wake up to is an email alert on their second full day about a murder two blocks west of their dorm. The parent phone calls alone would be heard ringing from across campus.

Even as the weather gets colder and overall crime statistics go down, maintain your vigilance. Mr. Lee didn't care that murders are statistically lower in September than in July. If you were robbed in December, you would probably have a similar outlook. It doesn't matter whether you are on the quad or at the Garfield Green Line stop. Keep the same level of awareness in both circumstances.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chicago Thoughts: Teacher's strike endangers kids

When the Chicago Teacher's Union and the Chicago Public Schools go to war, the kids lose. Whether you support one side or the other, you must also acknowledge the impact that this strike will have on young people. Some of the effects are obvious. There will be no classes, no homework, and no learning. Although the district orchestrated a plan to keep 144 schools open throughout the strike, they will serve as Chicago's largest daycares, not halls of education (if indeed any educating occurred on site in the first place). But the greatest danger to children does not come from academic atrophy, although that is certainly a legitimate worry. It comes from bullets, bats, and blades. At the end of a bloody summer, kids will shelter inside school buildings for brief respite from community violence. Now, Chicago's 404,000 pubic school students will be forced to the streets; out from the sight of teachers, but not from the sights of guns.

The CTU and CPS planned for the eventuality (nay, inevitability) of a strike. Their plan, entitled "Children First", included a number of provisions to protect children during the labor movement. Unfortunately, these strategies stumble short of their stated goals. CPS highlighted the following items from its plan:
  • "Keep approximately 145 school sites open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday – Friday.
    • Instruction will not be provided, students will participate in positive activities to keep them engaged, including independent reading and writing, arts and journaling, sports activities, computer-based programming, among others.
    • Elementary and high school students would attend separate designated facilities to address their unique needs.
  • Providing daily nutrition services to all students attending a site, including breakfast and lunch.
  • Partnering with City Sister Agencies to provide additional options for families and children such as:
It sounds extensive, and it was definitely a feat that the CTU and the Board could agree to even this much. But as said before, the Children First plan does not address the fears of parents and communities. The plan, and the strike itself, is wildly irresponsible when it comes to children well-being. It causes untold stress to families. It puts extensive labor and financial burden on city services. And most importantly, it recklessly endangers kids. I call your attention to two particularly damaging effects of the teacher's strike and the Children First plan. Again, it should not matter what side of the picket line you are one. All that should matter is the potential danger to children.
  1. 8:30 AM - 12:30 AM is a super low-crime period, so why are schools open then?
    "Children First"? More like "CPS Staff/Faculty First". By keeping schools open early in the morning, CPS has prioritized staff preferences over student livelihood. I am sure that administrators and support personnel would rather get in at 8:30 and leave by one. Kids, however, would rather stay in the building as long as possible to avoid the peak crime hours between 2 PM and 5 PM. Chicago's 8:30 AM to 1:00 PM time frame sees about as much violent crime as SeaWorld.

    There are a lot of reasons that crime is so low in the morning. No single explanation necessarily holds more weight than another. There are fewer people on the street. There is less time in the day for a conflict to develop. There are more people at work. Hell, even criminals need to sleep, and after a long night hanging and slinging and shooting they might be sleeping late. Whatever the reasons, Chicago's violent crime rates are quite low before noon.

    Given that schools are (more or less) safe havens for young Chicagoans, why would you have them open during a time of day where they least need the protection? I understand that this time slot lets kids eat both breakfast and lunch. That, at least, was a smart decision. But what about the safety component? Yes, fights and brawls occur on school property, but with far less frequency than outside those boundaries. And yes, interpersonal conflict that starts in the cafeteria can often find its way to the streets come the dismissal bell. But all things considered, schools are a safe place for kids to spend their day. Teachers break up fistfights. Police officers respond within seconds to any disturbance. Parents can be called. Security cameras monitor even the bathrooms.

    Now, I am not suggesting that these young people have studied crime statistics and cite the data for that time period as reason to stay in scool. Rather, they know that shit goes down in the afternoon. That's when their brother died last year. That's when their cousin was robbed last week. That's when they saw a corpse on the sidewalk. All day, school is a safe haven. During the afternoon and evening, however, the streets are ground zero.

    Closing the schools will have little or no impact on the origination of conflicts. Sure, young gang members won't start their altercations int he classroom. But with school out of session for an indeterminate length of time, they can now start their fights on the corners, in the stores, and in front of houses. There will be even less time for police to intercept news of impending attacks and try and stop them before school gets out. Teachers cannot summon the authorities (or families) to intervene. Conflicts can escalate the instant they begin, and Chicago's youth will be caught in the middle of it.

    Even if crime does not explode over the next days and weeks, the very fact that children were put in such a threatening position is outrageous. Both the CTU and CPS should be ashamed for putting kids in such a situation, especially after the summer violence. Even if McCarthy is to be believed and crime is finally down, the final tallies are still laughable; kids are still in danger. Forcing them to the streets during a time when they most need sanctuary is downright thoughtless.

    Community nonprofits and religious organization can pick up some of CPS's slack, but it should never have come to that. Everyone at the negotiation table should have better considered the potential consequences to children, especially in regards to these ridiculous hours of school operation.
  2. No organized high school sport competition
    Young people need pro-social alternatives to criminal and street life. Public League athletics are a popular activity amongst this city's young people, especially those at-risk young men who often comprise Chicago's gangs and cliques. Practice and competition happens after school, keeping kids under supervision for a few extra, critical hours of the day. Sport instills discipline and a sense of teamwork in young athletes. During the teacher strike, however, there will be no competition in the Public League. And the worst part? Teachers and administrator knew this would happen.

    The Chicago Tribune reported on this decision, made by the Illinois High School Association. As per the IHSA statutes, " 'No team or other entity representing a member school may participate in an interscholastic contest or activity during the time the member school is not in session due to a strike by teachers or other school personnel.'" (Source:
    The IHSA did not need to formally rule, persay, on the issue. Its final decision was in the bylaws the entire time. Any member of CPS or the CTU could have looked at these regulations and seen, months ago, the effect that the strike would have on public school athletics. For those who would argue that neither the CTU nor CPS knew about some obscure rules in an equally obscure PDF, I would counter that it is their job to know. The IHSA regulations impact children, and all educators are in the business of helping those children to the best of their abilities. Sports are a critical part of that equation.

    Admittedly, the IHSA will allow CPS teams to hold practice during the teacher's strike. But for many kids, practice without the promise of competition is like studying for a test that won't be graded. There is benefit in the warmup, but the real motivation is at game time, and most students just lack the personal momentum to care. Some CPS athletes will attend practices, and others will not. For most, the lack of school signals a lack of structured activities. This has an even more pronounced effect on team members who are already involved with, or exposed to, criminal activity. These young men can wander from their routine and into trouble. 

    To make matters worse, many coaches are themselves CTU members. Teachers have to picket, march, strike, and bargain. They cannot cross their lines to coach their students. This means that some students will be unable to practice even if they wanted to. Even the timing is an issue. CPS, like most schools in the country, holds practice after school between 3:00 and 5:00 PM. Remember that time frame from earlier? When the streets get more restless, the coaches keep their kids safe for as long as possible.

    It does not matter whether the strike lasts two days or two weeks. What matters is that during this time, kids lack incentive to attend pro-social after-school activities. Should teenagers think the strike will only last a few days, they will avoid practice because it infringes on their extended summer time. Should it last longer, it will be hard for them to break the lazy routine of no structured activity. Either way, some kids will lose out on the one formal, disciplined, supervised activity that they have all semester. In striking, both parties knew this would happen, and not enough has been done to ensure that young athletes stay on the field.
Again, as far as safety goes, I do not care whether the strike was justified or not. Nor do I care whether the city was justified or not. All that matters is that this labor movement needlessly endangers young people. Even if no overt harm comes of the strike, the fact that kids were placed in such a precarious position at all is quite disappointing. Educators in CTU and CPS should protect their charges before all else. CTU claims that it strikes for the kids. CPS claims that its own policies are for the kids. Whether one side is more righteous than the other does not matter when kids face harm and peril right now.

The Children First plan could have been better designed. The strike could have happened at a different time. More contingencies could have been in place. More concessions could have been made. And for the blind and deaf readers who would place me on one side or the other of the debate, I restate that the only side I am on is that of children. Politics do not matter when angry young men tuck gun into waistband and head outside to kill.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chicago Crime: Is overall city crime actually down?

In a recent MSNBC interview, Mayor Rahm Emanuel talked about politics, Chicago, and (of course), Chicago's violence. As in most of his media events, he acknowledged the rising violence, but countered that the city has seen an overall crime reduction. Here is the quote.

"We have a-- a gang issue on parts of the city.  Overall, overall crime [is] down 10 percent.  And we’re making efforts actually to reduce the gang conflicts because it’s gang-on-gang issues."

Given that this is the only positive point about our 2012 crime statistics, I can't blame Mr. Emanuel for repeating it whenever he gets in front of a camera. Never mind that overall American crime has consistently dropped for years. Never mind that Emanuel and McCarthy cannot really take credit for a decade-long trend. The bottom line for them is simple: If overall crime were not dropping, the CPD and Mayor would have an even more embarrassing problem than just that of rising violence. At least burglaries, vehicular theft, vandalism, and all other delinquency has dropped.

But has it really? On a whim, I went to the Chicago Data Portal to check out the crime data and confirm Emanuel's 10% reduction. It was hard to believe that the Mayor would loudly cite a number that was untrue. Then again, Chicago politicians are not exactly known for their transparency and honesty. The whole business called for a little verification.

My findings were baffling.

I expected to see crime down 8.5 or 9.5%. You couldn't fault Emanuel for fudging that into 10% to give himself and the brave men and women of the CPD some credit. Instead, I saw that crime was barely down at all.

Total Crimes 1/1/2011-8/20/2011: 223383
Total Crimes 1/1/2012-8/20/2012: 214953
Difference: 8430
% Difference: 3.8%

You would just be lying if you claimed that a 3.8% reduction was anything close to a 10% reduction. Numbers that small don't deserve special recognition. They are just too miniscule to prove a pattern.

Giving Mayor Emanuel the benefit of the doubt, I thought that there was more to the story than just a blatant numerical lie. Even if overall crime was only down 3.8%, maybe other subcategories of crime reflected the ideal 10% reduction. After all, if the CPD successfully reduced violent and property crime by a sizable amount, maybe the Mayor's optimism would be justified.

Let's take a look at other major crime categories to find that elusive 10% reduction. All data concerns the 1/1 - 8/20 period (2011 and 2012), as that is where we have numbers for this current year. I considered a wide range of crimes in making this table. The average Chicagoan is unlikely to be affected by gun violence or robbery, but burglary and car theft is a very real danger. In doing so, I wanted to see if any particular category of crime had dropped (or risen) in this so-called 10% reduced crime year.

Crime 2011 2012 Difference % Change
Battery 40515 40141 -374 -.93%
Robbery 8374 8145 -229 -2.77%
Burglary 16126 13919 -2207 -14.7%
Theft 45977 46047 +70 +.15%
Weapons Violation 2418 2446 +28 +1.51%
Criminal Sexual Assault 879 831 -48 -5.61%
Motor Vehicle Theft 12798 10965 -1833 -15.4%

It turns out that Chicago crime has actually improved in the last year, even if local/national media likes to focus on the violence uptick. Burglary and motor vehicle theft have dropped by 15% in one year. That's a sizable enough decline that I would be comfortable crediting new policing strategies (in addition to other factors). Burglary and car theft are not confined to distressed communities, although they are more prevalent there. Anyone from the Gold Coast to Andersonville can have their car stolen or their home broken into. It is overall good news that these incidents are declining.

If I were Mayor Emanuel or one of his advisers, I would emphasize the 15% drop in these two crimes. Property crime, while not as tragic as violence, can be a serious fear for the average city resident. Highlighting a sweeping 10% reduction in overall crime is too nebulous for most citizens. Refocusing on these two property crimes makes the CPD anti-crime strategies more concrete, bolstering Chicagoan confidence.

The news on violent crime, however, is far less positive. CPD superintendent Garry McCarthy has instituted a staggering number of strategic reforms in 2012. Just from memory alone, I can list eight:
  1. Gang audits
  2. Violence boxes
  3. Storefront targeting
  4. Saturation policing
  5. Following gang social media
  6. CompStat
  7. Increased overtime authorization
  8. CPD/CeaseFire partnership
Eight strategies for a .9% decrease in battery. Looks like it is time for a new one! Yes, there are other factors at play in crime fluctuation, and it is unfair to place blame entirely on the CPD or McCarthy. But insofar as Emanuel is touting a fabricated 10% crime reduction, we need to get down to Chicago's grizzly reality. Crime is too high where it matters most and our politicians misrepresent its severity.

The next time you hear any local media or officials spouting on about the "good news" when it comes to crime, put on your skeptic's glasses and look closer. Crime is not down 10%. Some property crime has decreased substantially, but Mayor Emanuel has no reason to feign optimism given the state of our streets. There are still a few months left in the year for a turnaround, but I'd bet on a pro-choice Romney before I bet on that.