Here’s a bang-up Fourth of July statistic for you – between 3:30 p.m. last Thursday and 3:30 a.m. this Monday there were 82 people shot in Chicago and 14 of those were killed. That may be the most incomprehensible portrait of America I believe I have ever seen. After all, Chicago is believed to have the most restrictive gun laws in the country. And while the mayor says it is “unacceptable” and that “we still have work to do,” almost the exact same thing happened in Chicago this time last year.
According to the second paragraph in the Chicago Tribune earlier this week, “The victims ranged from a 14-year-old boy shot by police in the Ole Irving Park neighborhood (South Side) to a 66-year-old woman grazed in the head as she walked up the steps of her porch on the Far South Side. Most victims were in their late teens and 20s.”
There is one more similarity about shooters and their victims; nearly every one of them was black. The 14-year-old who got shot? He was shooting at the police, just like four others that were shot by police on the most horrific 4th of July on record. Last year there were 75 shot and 12 killed but even as bullet-wary police stepped up patrols in troubled areas that have struggled with poverty for half a century, 21 separate shootings on Sunday alone “really blew it up for us in our strategy,” said police superintendent Garry McCarthy.
“It’s Groundhog Day here in Chicago again,” he fretted, the day a strong shadow of the year before. “It all comes down to these guns; there’s too many guns coming in and too little punishment going out.”
McCarthy, a former lawman in New York City and Newark, N.J., has never seen anything like it. “Everybody asks me what the difference is between New York and Chicago and I can tell you quite simply - proliferation of firearms. Possession of a loaded firearm is not even considered a violent felony in the state of Illinois,” he told reporters.
“There has to come a tipping point where this changes," he said Monday. "The illogical nature of what's happening here -- that government can intercede and prevent this from happening is overwhelming. And I refuse to think otherwise in a great country like America that we can continue to allow this to happen -- not just on a state, but on a federal level."
Another starling fact: in New York and most other big cities the gang members will throw away the guns as they are being chased but, in Chicago, where police confiscated over 3,200 guns during the first half of the year, they shoot back instead. The top cop says that is because “there is a greater sanction for the gang members to lose that firearm from their gang than there is to go to jail.”
In Chicago a gang member will fire back instead of discard his weapon because members face “severe beatings” and financial punishment if they lose their gun. “There are way too many guns. On any given weekend, our police officers take more guns off the streets than either New York or LA. It’s too easy for anybody to get a gun.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is calling out for Chicago citizens to “build a sense of community”, better policing, better education and stronger gun laws. “Whoever you are, wherever you live, the gun violence that was part of this weekend must stop.”
Last year the number of homicides dropped in Chicago to 415, after surpassing 500 in 2012, but that was still the high-water mark for the United States. In New York, where 12 were shot and three were killed in one five-hour span on Saturday, there were 350 homicides last year while Los Angeles had 255. Last weekend seven people were shot in Indianapolis and six were shot at a music festival in Houston.
And what is stunning is that both shooters and victims are consistently a large majority of young black males. According to Department of Justice records, firearms deaths for blacks in 2010 were 14.6 per 100,000 people. For Hispanics it was about 4.0 per 100,000 and for whites it was 1.9 per 100,000. Another point -- In Toronto, a city of approximately 3 million, there were 50 homicides last year but Chicago (pop. 2.7 million) was almost 10 times that. Then again, the black population in the Canadian city is 8 percent with few gangs while Chicago is 33 percent black with a prolific gang culture.
The most glaring thing about the Chicago shootings? You probably haven’t heard about it. It wasn’t an elementary school or a movie theater where this massacre took place. No, just our third-largest city. On Independence Day weekend 82 Americans were shot in Chicago and, to think, we just barely noticed.