Chicago has an unfortunate history of gun violence, stemming from the rise of gangs in the 1920s and continuing on to the present day. Despite its merits, the city cannot seem to break away from its dark past. While Chicago is relatively safe for most residents, gun violence is still a significant issue.
The Origins of Chicago Gun Violence
Chicago’s history of gang violence began with ethnic divisions between Polish, Irish, and Italian immigrant populations in the late 19th century. Consistent violence led to the rise of Chicago as one of America’s largest gang cities. The original gangs may no longer have a large presence on Chicago streets, but they do provide the background for Chicago’s gun violence problem.
The city experienced high levels of tension and division between its citizens. Homicide rates in Chicago began to climb in the mid-20th century, specifically due to racial tensions started during the Civil Rights Movement.
Protests and clashes between African-Americans and white nationalists quickly turned violent during this period. Discriminatory housing policies uprooted black families from their homes and placed them in less-desirable areas. Drug use, increased gang presence, and easy access to handguns led to climbing homicide rates, especially among youth. Increased unemployment also forced many Chicago residents into criminal situations.
In the 1970s, Chicago gun violence began to spike. The city’s deadliest year was 1974, when police recorded 970 homicides. “Super gangs” began to compete throughout the city, leading to a rise in gang-related murders. In August 1981 alone, 97 young people between the ages of 11 and 20 died by gang violence. Crack cocaine and increased drug trafficking led to another homicide spike, with 920 people murdered in 1992.
Modern Chicago Gang and Gun Violence
In the mid- to late-90s, homicides began to decline. Experts believe that this was due to a turn from the declining crack drug market to a primarily marijuana-based market. The decline continued up to 2004, when homicides in Chicago dropped below 500 for the first time in four decades.
During the 2010s, gun violence spiked again. In 2016, the city saw over 760 homicides. City superintendents stated that spike is likely due to the use of guns to settle criminal disputes, leading to gang murders and innocent people caught in the crossfire. Increased access to guns, fracturing gangs, and extreme poverty likely contributed to this spike.
Despite the harrowing statistics, there is hope for a safe Chicago. Over the years, the development of anti-gang programs for youth have effectively reduced crime and increased community unity. Criminal justice system reform may also be crucial to keeping guns off the streets.
2018 Chicago Gun Violence Statistics
Chicago saw its worst year of homicides in decades during 2016, with over 760 murders. By comparison, there were 294 homicides in Los Angeles and 334 homicides in New York City during 2016. Although Chicago homicide rates have spiked in recent years, a slow decrease is apparent.
The Chicago Tribune maintains a database of Chicago homicides throughout the year. According to their 2018 data:
- 570 Chicago residents died by homicide between January 1st, 2018 and December 25th, 2018.
- Of the 570 deaths, 414 died by gun violence.
- The majority of 2018 Chicago homicides occurred in the South and West sides of the city.
- 492 homicide victims were male, compared to 80 females and three of unknown sex.
- The majority of Chicago homicide victims were black (356) or of an unknown race (145). 30 white, 21 Hispanic, and 3 Asian Chicagoans died by homicide in 2018.
- Additional causes of homicide in Chicago include stabbing (30) and assault (9). The remaining homicides involve unknown causes (110) and other causes (12).
- 671 Chicagoans died by homicide in 2017 and 785 died in 2016.
- Between 439 and 491 people died by homicide in Chicago between 2013 and 2015.
Despite Chicago’s difficult past, gun violence is slowly decreasing in the city. Investing in criminal justice reform, increased attention to impoverished areas, and anti-gang programs for at-risk youth could accelerate this decline.
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