Carol Felsenthal
On politics

The Homicide Numbers Sound Good, But Hold the Champagne

Those falling numbers don’t tell the whole story about Chicago’s random, pervasive, endless gun violence.

photo: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune 

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy addresses reporters on the death of six-month-old Jonylah Watkins in March. 

Yes, the homicide rate is down by 42 percent for the first four months of 2013, compared to 2012—we’re at 93, compared to 161. Yes, some of the policing tactics that Supt. Garry McCarthy has deployed seem to be working. And, yes, he is taking a deserved bow and trumpeting the fact that in these first four months “nonfatal shootings” are also down compared to 2013.

But no, hold the champagne. Tuesday night to Wednesday morning, with temperatures, at last, more like summer than early spring or late winter, the numbers of nonfatal shootings skyrocketed.

When I unplugged myself from the news around 10:30 Tuesday night, nine people had been shot, mostly men, mostly on the South Side, some bystanders, some alleged gang members. Who knows? As is typical, there were no shooters in custody.

When I checked again Wednesday morning, there were 17 victims of seemingly random shootings, three of them just 16 years old, and, in addition to that grim toll, there were three deaths.

It’s that randomness, that shooting gallery aspect of life on the streets of Chicago that scares people. That was surely the fear behind Walter Payton College Prep’s forfeiture of a baseball game to Brooks College Prep last Saturday. Brooks is located in the far south side neighborhood of Roseland that has seen too many of its young people shot, if not to death, then in the leg, or back or shoulder. No gang member is going to mistake a Payton kid for a rival gang member, but accidents happen. Could some student be caught in cross fire driving his dad’s car to Roseland?

Most of the shootings are attributed to gang retaliation, but so many of the victims in months past have turned out not to be the intended targets—a six year old on the front porch of her family’s house here; a 15-year-old-honor student there. The shooters are the gang that can’t shoot straight. Day after day in the Tribune and the Sun-Times, I read the nauseating enumeration of name, age, geographical location of shooting, and bodily location of shooting.

That the latter is so often the “buttocks” makes me understand that the aim of the punks who open fire is as weak as their characters.

So don’t feel too much relief at those falling homicide numbers. The absurdly high number of nonfatal shootings—even if the number seems, so far this year, somewhat tamed, is the one that drags on Chicago day in and day out. It’s the one that makes people fearful of driving, forget about walking, in areas of the South Side and the West Side. It’s the ugly stat that cements our city’s segregation, both literally and emotionally.

How about this? Why don’t the citizens of Chicago—much as the Chamber of Commerce or the Michigan Avenue merchants or the convention bureau might object—demand that the police department report the number of shootings at the end of every month; 17 nonfatal shootings from Tuesday April 30 to Wednesday May 1. Last night, there were only three, but one of those was a 10-year-old boy. And no, he was not the intended victim.

The number might shock Chicagoans into doing something—anything—to strangle the hold that street gangs have on our city and its future.

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