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Chicago Killings Spark Outrage


We turn now to another story that's making headlines for all the wrong reasons. It's been a bloody year in the Windy City. More than 250 people have reportedly been murdered so far this year in Chicago. That number is up about 38 percent from the same time last year, and now people are asking just what Mayor Rahm Emanuel is doing about it.

He faced reporters yesterday and said some of the old plans to stop violence weren't working now.


MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: So there's a series of changes that had to be put in place. We put them in place - not content, won't be content. We go over this all the time, and I don't think coming in, swatting something down and letting it come back in two weeks is a way you strengthen a community. That's actually what it does, is it builds up cynicism.

HINOJOSA: Joining us now to talk about the rise in Chicago murders and the plan to stop them is Robert Wildeboer. He's an award-winning crime reporter for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.

Welcome to TELL ME MORE.

ROBERT WILDEBOER, BYLINE: Thanks. Good to be here.

HINOJOSA: So, Robert, here's the disconnect that I'm having: So crime in Chicago is down, but murders are on the increase. What's going on?

WILDEBOER: Yeah. Mayor Emanuel says crime is down 10 percent, you know, taking into things like theft, armed robbery. But the murder rate - which is obviously the really obvious stat that you can't really argue with - that is actually up, as you mentioned, almost 40 percent.

HINOJOSA: So as I was reading about - you know, and this is the city that I grew up in. So - but I'm reading these stories, and I'm just like, oh, my God. It sounds like, in some places, like the violence in Mexico, what I'm hearing. There was a story in the Sun Times of a woman, Sabrina Collins, how she rushed over to her son Marley Collins, and she said she found her boy bleeding in a vacant lot on the 1500 block of South Spalding. I watched my child die right in front of my face - a kid bleeding out.

So is there a particular story or murder this year that, you know, basically pushed public outrage to a boiling point?

WILDEBOER: I don't think so. It was really - I think it's been the numbers. And it's - you know, a lot of people are concerned when the media covers murders a lot, but it seems to be a really good thing in many ways because then it calls our public officials to account and really focuses public attention on it. And this is a problem that has just gone on for so long and, you know, we just kind of become sort of desensitized or immune to it because, you know, you read these stories every day.

You know, just last night, eight people were shot in the city of Chicago. But some of the numbers were just so shocking, A, that murder's up 40 percent over last year. B, there have been a number of really violent weekends in Chicago where the numbers are just so striking, everybody's just, like, what in the world?

Over the Memorial Day weekend, in a 72-hour period, we had 12 people killed and another 45 people shot. Thirteen people were shot in one 90-minute stretch, and so that's really focusing public attention on this issue right now.

HINOJOSA: So here's the thing. Is there a way to put this into context? I mean, Chicago has had a lot of violence in the past. We know that. Is it just that there are guns everywhere and readily accessible?

WILDEBOER: Yeah. That's an interesting point because, historically, you know, if we're on par - on track to hit about 500 murders this year, that's actually, you know, quite low compared to, say, 1992, when there were more than 900 murders. But murder has come down consistently over the last 20 years and, in the last five, six years, there have been about 450 murders per year on average. And so, now that we're seeing that slight bump up, people are saying, you know, what's going on? But, again, I don't think that's a bad thing that the public attention is on this.

A lot of people right now are thinking it has something to do with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, when he first walked into office. Before, when he was running for office, he promised that he was going to put 1,000 new officers on the street and everybody was like, oh, great. When he got into office, eight days into office, he took an anti-gang unit that traveled around the city and kind of flooded crime hotspots. It had about 500 or 600 officers in it. He took those officers and he put them on the beat, he said, working with the community, so that they can know the community that they're policing. And he said those were the new officers. Well, clearly, those are not new officers. Those officers had been on the job.

And so now people are saying, you know, he broke up that anti-gang unit, and is that what's responsible for the increase we're seeing now? Emanuel says he wanted to move those officers to the beat because you have more community engagement and there's a long-term effect. And his police chief - Garry McCarthy, who is from New York and Newark, New Jersey - the police chief is saying, you know, we used to have 450 murders in this town. That's not good enough. We're putting in place strategies now that are going to have a long-term effect and are going to mean that our murder rate is much lower than that 450 that we've become accustomed to. But, you know, they seem to be making the argument that there will be some short-term sacrifices to be made in the meantime.

HINOJOSA: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa, and we're talking about the rise in murders in Chicago with WBEZ crime reporter Robert Wildeboer.

I want to talk a little bit about attitudes of people in Chicago. Here's a clip from Tio Hardiman. He's the director of Ceasefire Illinois. It's a social work group that tries to stop the violence. And we spoke with him on the phone earlier.

TIO HARDIMAN: Petty disputes turn deadly. Arguments about females turn deadly in Chicago. A person lost his money in a dice game. Some young guys are fighting over the different corners out there, of course. And there's a real serious spirit of revenge in Chicago right now because people have lost loved ones. They've been killed already, so they want to just avenge their deaths by killing somebody else. So you have so much going on in Chicago and, to be honest, with the world. We have our hands full here in Chicago.

HINOJOSA: He just - I mean, you can hear it in his voice. He says that there's a sense of apathy on the streets because people think that, essentially, nothing can be done to stop this kind of violence. Is that the sense that you're getting when you talk to people on the street, Robert?

WILDEBOER: That's totally the sense - maybe not apathy, but hopelessness and confusion that even, you know, people who live in these neighborhoods that are affected - and it is specific neighborhoods, right. It's poor black neighborhoods that are seeing the violence. It's a lot of poor, young black men who are committing the crimes and also being the victim of crimes.

Of course, then we have residents of those neighborhoods also suffering. A seven-year-old girl was shot in a gang-related shoot-out last week. But, you know, people who grow up - grew up in those neighborhoods, live in those neighborhoods, they say to me all the time, you know, I just don't know what to do. There's just a sense of real hopelessness.

And the Sun Times - Chicago Sun Times did a piece this weekend outlining all the murders we had on the Memorial Day weekend when there were 12 people shot and another - or 12 people killed and another 45 people murdered. And after reading this long list of these situations and these people getting shot and killed and the stories of their families, you know, it really became more than just a number. And after reading that Sunday morning, boy, I was just really, really down for the rest of the day, as well. And there's just like - yeah. What do you do?

HINOJOSA: So the congressman, Jesse Jackson, Jr., he represents part of Chicago's South Side in Congress, and that's where some of this crime has been happening, quite a bit of it. He's also been absent for a while. So my final question to you, Robert: His staff says that the congressman is dealing with health issues, but they won't say what those issues are or where he is. So what are people in the community saying about that situation?

WILDEBOER: I don't think they're relating that to the current crisis with the homicide rate because, you know, generally, you don't look to your congressman to solve that. You look to your city leaders, your police chief. Then you talk about social services.

But, in terms of just Jesse Jackson, Jr. and what people are talking about here, you know, it's just been a really bad couple of years for Jesse Jackson, Jr., because he was connected to the Blagojevich scandal. Our former governor, Rod Blagojevich, who's now serving 14 years in prison, Jackson had some connections to that. It was revealed that Jackson had had an affair, now these health problems. Public officials are starting to call for him to, you know, release some information about what's going on because, as you said, there hasn't been much information about what's ailing him now.

Senator Dick Durbin was quoted in the Chicago Sun Times this morning talking about, yeah, you know, as a public official, he has some responsibility, that he needs to provide some explanation of what's going on.

HINOJOSA: All right. Well, thanks for that update, Robert.

WILDEBOER: Thanks very much.

HINOJOSA: Robert Wildeboer covers crime and justice for Chicago at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, and he joined us from their studios. Thanks again, Robert.

Going to the Beauty Shop is about more than getting a new look. It's also a chance to have conversations that give you a new look at the issues that matter to you. From parenting to politics to pop culture, in our Beauty Shop, a roundtable of women bloggers, journalists and commentators give their take on the week's news. That's next time on TELL ME MORE. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.