The New York Times did a nice piece of long-form (and interactive) journalism this weekend. Published on the front page of its Sunday paper and the home page of its website. the Times reported on the 64 people shot in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend, six of whom died. While random shootings occurred, the Times points out that much of the gun violence in Chicago happens in small pockets of the city and among individuals well known to the police. So why is it that Chicago has seen the number of homicides and non-fatal shootings spike? A few pieces of information leapt out at me:
- Of the 64 people shot, the police had previously identified 50 as having a high likelihood of shooting someone or being shot;
- Gun possession only carries a one-year prison term in Illinois; and
- The clearance rate for murders is about 25 percent.
In short, you have a police force that knows most of the people at the greatest risk of shooting someone or being shot but the penalty for carrying a gun is a slap on the wrist and your chances of being arrested if you do kill someone is only one in four. There is a chicken-or-the-egg quality to some of this - is the low clearance rate due to police indifference or the failure of the community to give up its own? When the community knows murderers are rarely caught, does it encourage street justice and a lack of cooperation with police for fear of retaliation from those turned in by their neighbors? Does the perceived security of carrying a gun outweigh the risk of a year’s time in prison? Are the men and women most at-risk of being involved in gun violence being offered alternatives or do they choose “the lifestyle” freely, knowing the risks.
Although not mentioned in the article, I suspect some of the other socio-economic metrics in these communities are also woeful - be it the unemployment rate, truancy, or the percent of high school students who graduate (or go to college). In economically depressed areas, if you have little hope or opportunity, are poorly educated, or do not expect to live past 40, how exactly do you make this stop?
You can read the article here