Gun Violence Surges in Chicago, Where Residents Seek to Show ‘Everything is Not All Bad’

A community event over the weekend included chess games in the city’s Chatham neighborhood. (Mark Guarino for The Washington Post)
A community event over the weekend included chess games in the city’s Chatham neighborhood. (Mark Guarino for The Washington Post)

On a weekend afternoon in a city scarred by escalating violence, Kris Pinder watched his children play at a park festival in Roseland, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

The harmonies of a gospel choir bubbled up through loudspeakers while clippers buzzed across the scalps of little boys in barber chairs. Basketballs flew across a nearby court, and tennis balls bounced over nets on another.

By the end of a violent Labor Day weekend, Chicago had reached a grim milestone, recording more homicides through Monday night than the city experienced during all of last year. This tally came with a late surge of gunfire, as the Chicago police said there were 13 homicides over the Labor Day weekend, most of them on Monday, along with 43 shooting incidents, both numbers that topped those seen in the city a year earlier.

All told, by the end of Monday police said there were 488 homicides in Chicago so far this year, more than the 481 killings they logged last year — with nearly four months left in 2016. The surge in violence on Labor Day came after an average of three people were killed each day in August, marking a particularly brutal stretch in a bloody year.

But in Roseland, where a woman was fatally shot five days before the festival, people came together over the weekend for a gathering that was one of dozens across the city over the long weekend aimed at helping parts of the city under siege from escalating gun violence.

“The children need to see that everything is not all bad,” said Pinder, 33.

Police have said that most of the city’s homicide victims were people killed by gunfire. In August alone, there were 92 victims of homicide, the city’s deadliest month in more than two decades and more killings than most big cities across the country recorded in the first six months of the year.

Eddie Johnson, the Chicago police superintendent, said the violence was due to repeat offenders in “impoverished neighborhoods” utilizing what he described as an absurd proliferation of guns on the streets.

“It’s not a police issue,” Johnson said at a news briefing Tuesday. “It’s a society issue … people without hope do these kinds of things.”

Police have attributed the spike in gun violence in Chicago to known, repeat offenders using illegal guns. Johnson again called for tougher penalties for people who commit gun crimes, echoing a plea he has made this summer in the face of the violence.

“I’m frustrated,” he said Tuesday. “The city should be frustrated. Frustrated that despite these weekends, we still see repeat offenders get back out on the street far too soon.”

For many in the city, this ongoing bloodshed has filled them with fear and anxiety; in a survey earlier this year, residents were found as likely to think young people in the city would become victims of a violent crime as graduate from college.

Over the weekend, a group of 75 organizations, block clubs and churches staged pop-up events in the areas of the city most impacted by the violence — the southern and western neighborhoods that have been home to most of the increase in killings, police say. The surge in violence has given an urgency to the block parties, cookouts, chess matches, gospel concerts, stage plays and pickup basketball games.

“When the amount of violence skyrocketed this summer, people realized if we don’t do something, it’ll get out of hand,” said Kaaron Johnson, 28, at a gathering in Bronzeville, another South Side neighborhood.

Last year, Chicago saw 481 homicides last year, police said, a number that authorities revised upwards from the 473 homicides they had previously reported. They also had said there were 90 killings in August before increasing that number as well. Police said the homicide totals increase when someone dies from wounds suffered during a particular time period or if an investigation winds up determining a death was a homicide. (While official police statistics put the city on the verge of 500 homicides this year after Labor Day, data collected by the Chicago Tribune — including killings not included in the homicide total by police — showed that the city topped that figure early Tuesday.)

Chicago is on pace for more than 600 homicides in a single year for the first time since 2003. The country’s third-biggest city has had more killings so far this year than the two larger cities — New York and Los Angeles — combined.

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SOURCE: Mark Berman and Mark Guarino 
The Washington Post