Monday, April 1, 2013

Chicago Crime: Gun violence and mob attacks

Police superintendent Garry McCarthy is in trouble. Despite his many strategies (including drop boxes, hot spot policing, mobile response teams, etc.), this past weekend saw at least 2 killed and 23 wounded in shootings across the city. I am pretty sure that doesn't count the 4 wounded Sunday night after the Sun-Times published the 2 and 23 count. Nor does it include the woman found dead in a West Side park, with signs of trauma to the head. All of this occurred over just 3 days of warm weather, with temperatures climbing as high as 59 F on Saturday afternoon. That certainly does not bode well for April and May, months which historically have seen extreme violence spikes following similar temperature increases.

As if in response to the weekend calamities, the CPD reported to ABC news that overall gun homicides were down this March as compared with March 2012. CPD officials lauded the "69% reduction" in homicide as compared with last March, placing special emphasis on the violence reduction strategies and efforts implemented since January.

Don't be fooled. These are absurd statements without the proper context, and that context is not criminological or sociological. In this case, it's almost entirely meteorological. March 2012 recorded the highest temperatures in over a century. We saw 80 degree days on the upper end and 60 degree days as the norm. This March saw temperatures in the low 30s throughout almost the entire month. We saw over 4 inches of accumulated snow for the first week and a half. I haven't run any analyses to compare temperature and crime for this year, but my overwhelming suspicion is that the numbers will rain all over the CPD's parade.

Unfortunately for McCarthy, the gun violence wasn't even the worst news of the weekend. That dubious honor goes to the mob attacks and beatings that occurred up and down Chicago's downtown Magnificent Mile. If a superintendent of the CPD has any standing orders, it's to keep the Mag Mile, and the affluent, happy shoppers/tourists, insulated from city crime. If there's one thing that Mayor Emanuel must hate, it's mob attacks on the Mag Mile. Saturday's incidents included a pack of 11 young men beating and robbing women on the CTA Red Line, fifty-strong mobs tearing down Chicago Avenue, while allegedly hassling, intimidating, and assaulting pedestrians, and a massive police action that shut down the street and summoned back up from districts across the city. All of this centered around the intersection of Chicago and State, the Chicago Red Line stop that is the South Side's gateway to the Mag Mile. All of this caused by young black men and women who apparently went downtown with the expressed intent of causing havoc. It was reminiscent of the "wilding" attacks of last year, although those almost seem tamer when compared to the actions of Saturday.

Concerned readers might ask why Garry and Rahm are more concerned about random mob assaults downtown instead of the awful gun violence ravaging the South and West sides. For the politicos of City Hall, our downtown area is always priority number one. They view the Loop and Mag Mile as the center of our tourism industry, the heart of our economy, and the gleaming public face to national and international audiences. When the violence of the city's periphery spills into its core, our stores lose customers and property, our hotels lose guests, and our wealthy downtown taxpayers fume. We make national news, and we generally look bad.

For social workers like myself, not to mention community leaders, activists, educators, and neighborhood residents, our focus will always be on the marginalized communities stricken with violence and poverty. But we must understand that this emphasis is not shared by the Man downtown. We can imagine that Mayor Emanuel had some choice words to share with Mr. McCarthy in a tense Saturday night phone call. It's one thing that the manifold CPD strategies seem entirely reliant on temperature. It's another thing entirely that the CPD can't even protect the city core, let alone stop neighborhood shootings. That's the sort of failure that would frustrate any mayor.

The Stark reality of Chicago is that seasons determine crime. As the weather gets warmer, more people take to the streets, tempers (literally) heat up, altercation and turf wars erupt, and violence generally peaks. Now that April has started and the mercury promises to keep rising, we will see what happens with Chicago crime. My current fear and prediction is that CPD strategies have done basically nothing. The only thing keeping crime low is the temperature (as the old joke goes in Chicago, Tom Skilling is the best criminologist in the city). We will hope that I am proven wrong, but I worry that the coming weeks will show otherwise.

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