Where Does Chicago Go From Here After Marking the Highest Rate of Killings in Nearly 20 Years?

A member of the Chicago Police Department talks with Felicia Humphries at the scene where her son was shot and killed near the intersection of South Kilbourn Avenue and West Adams Street on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
A member of the Chicago Police Department talks with Felicia Humphries at the scene where her son was shot and killed near the intersection of South Kilbourn Avenue and West Adams Street on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Spencer Leak, who’s helped prepare Chicago’s dead since he was a boy, is looking back at 2016 with a mix of shock and sadness.

The city has seen more than 750 homicides this year and approximately five times as many shootings.

“My dad founded the funeral home in 1933, and I’ve been at my father’s business since I was 12,” the 79-year-old president of Leak & Sons Funeral Home said Tuesday. “I’ve never seen violence like it is now. And I’ve seen a lot.”

In January, Chicago’s homicide figures were already forecasting a violent year ahead. That has proved tragically accurate. Over the Christmas holiday weekend alone, at least 57 people were shot, a dozen of them fatally.

“I looked at our city over the holiday, and how beautiful it was with people enjoying the season,” Leak said. “And blocks away, people were destroying each other. This can’t keep going on.”

As crime dips to historic lows nationwide, Chicago has struggled with a homicide problem that now outpaces New York and Los Angeles combined. The year 2016 has been Chicago’s deadliest since 1997.

And just as a few big cities like Chicago can skew the national average, only a handful of neighborhoods are responsible for Chicago’s rising numbers overall.

Of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods, eight have more than 90 homicides per 100,000 people, while at least 11 have less than one, according to data compiled by the Chicago Tribune and The Trace, a news nonprofit. (The official homicide figures from the Chicago Police Department tend to be somewhat lower than the numbers compiled by media organizations and the medical examiner’s office, because of the way the police department adjusts its crime stats as investigations progress.)

City officials have categorized most of the shootings as gang-related, with criminals and bystanders alike among the dead.

“What I’m seeing now is random violence as opposed to targeted violence,” Leak said. “I’m seeing situations where people do mass shootings. That’s something we did not see 20 to 30 years ago.”

There’s little agreement as to what the biggest contributing factors are.

Community members in the hardest-hit neighborhoods cite the lack of mental health care, economic investment or educational opportunities. The city’s mass shuttering of 50 public schools in 2012 largely affected low-income black and Latino communities.

Politicians and police have their own list of grievances, including comparatively weak gun laws in the neighboring states of Indiana and Wisconsin that facilitate a flow of illegal guns into the city. They also blame thinning police ranks and relatively short local jail sentences for gun-related charges.

Chicago’s homicide clearance rate ― the share of cases that get solved ― is about 30 percent. That’s less than half the national average, according to the FBI’s 2012 data.

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Source: Huffington Post | Kim Bellware