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Gun Deaths In Chicago: Why Is This Happening?


We are spending the hour on an issue that we believe concerns Americans from across the political spectrum. We're talking about violence, especially gun violence. Needless to say, the attack at Fort Lauderdale International Airport yesterday has focused our attention on this again. Five people were killed and several others wounded by a former Army reservist who struggled with mental illness according to his family. But we are going to focus our conversations today on a place that's been forced to confront violence on a daily basis. We are talking about Chicago.

More than 4,000 people were shot in Chicago last year. More than 700 people were killed there. There were more murders in Chicago last year than in New York and Los Angeles combined. And the new year has not brought respite. We're going to hear from a variety of voices - former gang members, public officials, including the head of the Chicago police, survivors and researchers. We'll start with NPR's Cheryl Corley who's reported from Chicago for many years. Cheryl, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Oh, you're quite welcome.

MARTIN: So I'm going to ask you to set the table for us because you're not only a beat reporter; you're a native of Chicago. Is there a sense in Chicago that there is something unique happening?

CORLEY: I think if you had asked me that a few months ago, I'd probably say it depends on where you live since much of the violence is concentrated among a small group of people and neighborhoods on the city's South and West side. And I think what's really different is just the sheer numbers. In other cities like St. Louis and Baltimore have much higher murder rates than Chicago, but that said, just the number of murders in the city far exceeds other cities as you mentioned, New York and LA. And that just has people very concerned here.

MARTIN: This week, this incident where four young adults allegedly abducted an acquaintance of theirs and abused him terribly and broadcast this on Facebook Live, what are people saying about this?

CORLEY: People are just really shocked by this. You know, what we know about the case is that it started off with the victim and a suspect he considered to be a friend hanging out. We learned at their bond hearing - and all of the suspects, four of them, all African-Americans - they were denied bond. We found out that a play fight turned into something really ugly and hateful, but also have learned now that there was an effort to get money and to say that they held this victim captive.

And I think that the only thing that may be common with what's happening with gun violence here is that the Facebook suspects used social media to broadcast what was happening. And we often have cases where gang members here will post something on social media, often some sort of taunt, that sparks some of the gun violence that occurs here.

MARTIN: You've done a lot of reporting on all aspects of this. Can you just give us an idea of some of the things that people are talking about in addressing this issue?

CORLEY: Some of the things that police have talked about a lot and the mayor have talked about a lot, they want to get legislation that would be stronger on repeat gun offenders. That's something that they've talked about. There's also been a lot of talk, too, about doing things in communities and expanding summer job programs here. You know, it's just a conundrum that people are trying to address in a variety of ways here.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Cheryl Corley. Cheryl, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.