And the results are devastating, as this article in City Journal, examining the situation in Chicago, reports.
Violence in Chicago is reaching epidemic proportions. In the first five months of 2016, someone was shot every two and a half hours and someone murdered every 14 hours, for a total of nearly 1,400 nonfatal shooting victims and 240 fatalities. Over Memorial Day weekend, 69 people were shot, nearly one per hour, dwarfing the previous year’s tally of 53 shootings over the same period. The violence is spilling over from the city’s gang-infested South and West Sides into the downtown business district; Lake Shore Drive has seen drive-by shootings and robberies.
The growing mayhem is the result of Chicago police officers’ withdrawal from proactive enforcement, making the city a dramatic example of what I have called the “Ferguson effect.” Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, the conceit that American policing is lethally racist has dominated the national airwaves and political discourse, from the White House on down. In response, cops in minority neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities around the country are backing off pedestrian stops and public-order policing; criminals are flourishing in the resulting vacuum. (An early and influential Ferguson-effect denier has now changed his mind: in a June 2016 study for the National Institute of Justice, Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri–St. Louis concedes that the 2015 homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was “real and nearly unprecedented.” “The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” he told the Guardian.)
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel warned in October 2015 that officers were going “fetal,” as shootings in the city skyrocketed. But 2016 has brought an even sharper reduction in proactive enforcement. Devastating failures in Chicago’s leadership after a horrific police shooting and an ill-considered pact between the American Civil Liberties Union and the police are driving that reduction. Residents of Chicago’s high-crime areas are paying the price.
Felicia Moore, a wiry middle-aged woman with tattoos on her face and the ravaged frame of a former drug addict, is standing inside a Polish sausage joint on Chicago’s South Side at 10 PM. Asked about crime, she responds: “I’ve been in Chicago all my life. It’s never been this bad. Mothers and grandchildren are scared to come out on their porch; if you see more than five or six niggas walking together, you gotta run.” The violence claimed her only son last year, she says, just as he was being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Moore is engaging in some revisionist history: her son, Jeremiah Moore, was, in fact, killed with a shot to his head—but in 2013, a little over a year after he was released from prison for shooting a mother at a bus stop; the Atlantic Hawks don’t enter into it.
Felicia Moore’s assessment of the present crime situation in Chicago, however, is more reality-based. Through the end of May, shooting incidents in Chicago were up 53 percent over the same period in 2015, which had already seen a significant increase over 2014. Compared with the first five months of 2014, shooting incidents in 2016 were up 86 percent. Certain police districts saw larger spikes. The Harrison District on the West Side, encompassing West Humboldt Park, for example, had a 191 percent increase in homicides through the end of May. Shootings in May citywide averaged nearly 13 a day, a worrisome portent for summer.
A man who calls himself City Streets is standing in a ragtag group of drinkers and hustlers outside a liquor and convenience store on the South Side. They pass around beer, cigarettes, and cash and ask strangers for money. A young woman shoves her boy along, oblivious to the late hour. “It’s terrible out here. Someone gets shot every day,” City Streets tells me. “It ain’t no place to hang,” he adds, ignoring his own advice.
Social breakdown lies behind Chicago’s historically high levels of violence. Fatherlessness in the city’s black community is at a cataclysmic level—close to 80 percent of children are born to single mothers in high-crime areas. Illegitimacy is catching up fast among Hispanics, as well. Gangs have stepped in where fathers are absent. A 2012 gang audit documented 59 active street gangs with 625 factions, some controlling a single block. Schools in gang territories go on high alert at dismissal time to fend off violence. Endemic crime has prevented the commercial development and gentrification that are revitalizing so many parts of Chicago closer to downtown; block after block on the South Side features a wan liquor store or check-cashing outlet, surrounded by empty lots and the occasional skeleton of a once-magnificent beaux-arts apartment complex or bank. Nonfunctioning streetlights, their fuse boxes vandalized, signal the reign of a local gang faction.
But disorder, bad before, seems to be worsening. The night after my conversations with Felicia Moore and City Streets, dozens of teens burst into the intersection of Cicero and Madison on the West Side, stopping traffic and ignoring the loud approach of a fire truck. They hold their cell phones high, the new sign of urban empowerment. Earlier that day, a fight involving at least 60 teens took over a nearby intersection, provoking a retaliatory shooting two days later at a local fried-chicken restaurant. On May 14, a 13-year-old girl stabbed a 15-year-old girl to death in a South Side housing complex; the murderer’s mother had given her the knife. In the summer of 2015, wolf packs of teens marauded down Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, robbing stores and pedestrians. The phenomenon started even earlier this year. A couple strolling on Lake Shore Drive downtown on Memorial Day weekend were chased by more than a half-dozen young men, at least one armed with a gun. The two tried to escape across the highway, the teens in hot pursuit. A pickup truck hit the couple, killing the female. A police officer flashed his emergency lights at the teens, and they fled. “If it wasn’t for the police being there at the time, I don’t know where I might be now,” the surviving man told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Six feet under?”
Public-order infractions, otherwise known as “Broken Windows” offenses, abound. Stand just a few minutes on a South or West Side thoroughfare, and someone will stride by hawking bootleg CDs or videos and loose cigarettes. Oliver, a 34-year-old with a Bloods tattoo and alcohol on his breath, has just been frisked by the police in a West Side White Castle parking lot around 9:30 PM. “The police are assholes,” he says. “I know my rights; I’m selling CDs, so I know I’m doing something wrong, but they weren’t visible in my bag.” Oliver then sells two loosies to a passerby, laboriously counting out change from a five-dollar bill.