Murder in Chicago: Rahm's Waterloo, urban decay or poster city for gun control?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s popularity seems inversely correlated to Chicago’s rising murder rate. Riding a wave of positive momentum, Mayor Emanuel held his own in the aftermath of Chicago’s teacher strike. Karen Lewis, president of Chicago’s Teachers Union seemed to take the hit for that and now faces an uphill battle for re-election.

High profile shootings like the one in Newtown, CT and 15-yr old Hadiya Pendleton foment public outrage and intensify scrutiny. Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy making comments about Chicago’s murder rate being “not so bad” doesn’t help. Ultimately, the bullet stops at the desk of the guy in charge, in this case it’s Emanuel. What’s a mayor to do?

While Chicago reported more than 500 murders for 2012, New York, a city with 3 times the population reported just over 400, their lowest since the 60’s. To put it into perspective, though Chicago had over 900 murders in 1990, New York about 2,500. To be sure, metrics for crime statistics have changed, but that doesn’t account for the trend in murders here and in New York. Clearly they’re doing something right and we’re not.

New York prosecutes gang members for conspiracy and has better stop-and-frisk laws. They have a city-wide system that allows them to better identify hot spots and a separate task force for domestic violence. Some of these things could be implemented here. Again, the Police Superintendent telling us that it’s all a matter of “perception” is not helpful. A new police chief – or a muzzle for the current one – might be a good starting point for the Mayor.

Worldwide, there are much worse cities, like San Pedro Sula, Honduras and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, numbers 1 and 2, respectively. Detroit, which has our country’s worst murder rate (58 per 100,000) is still only a fraction of those cities. Statistics don’t exist in a vacuum and their implications should not be ignored. Regardless of scale, the two most identifiable factors omnipresent across the board are drugs and poverty, each with its own laundry list of challenges. With drugs comes competition and corruption. Poverty is spawned by lack of employment and educational opportunity and, in turn spawns hopelessness and disenfranchisement. Chicago’s proposed school closings is going to prove very problematic.

It’s misleading to consider urban violence side by side with random acts of irrationality or paranoia. The factors contributing to Adam Lanza’s rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School may never be known or understood. Nor is it possible to cast a net capable of filtering out every possibile individual act of violence. As tragic as it is, Sandy Hook is an outlier, something that may well have been unforeseeable and inevitable.

Urban violence shares root causes and can be addressed on a preventative basis as well as a punitive one. 80% of Chicago gun deaths occured in just half of Chicago’s police districts, mostly on the South and West sides. These are the areas most plagued by gangs, poverty and lack of opportunity. These are the areas where we can focus attention on kids to thwart gang recruitment and offer greater educational opportunity and after school programs.

Chicago confiscated 50,000 guns between 2001 and 2012. Access to guns is part of the problem, certainly not the biggest part. If gangs are fighting over street corners to sell illegal drugs, doesn’t it make sense to legalize those drugs? If we remember our history, the biggest boon to organized crime in this country was Prohibition. Legalize, control and tax drugs. Nobody’s getting shot over a good spot to sell Budweiser.

This thing’s not going to get solved overnight, but it won’t get solved at all if we do nothing. Yes, guns are part of the problem, but there’s a glitch in our system and we have to look at ways to fix that glitch. Trying to fight the NRA is an exercise in futility, especially when there’s so much more we can do. I wonder what I did with my “I Heart New York” button.

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