Scenes from Chicago, that notorious first weekend in August, when 75 people were shot, 12 of them fatally:
- A 17-year-old boy is shot and killed while riding his bicycle in the Gresham neighborhood. The gunman gets away.
- A 19-year-old man walking in Brighton Park is shot in the arm; he tries escaping into a laundromat, but a panicked employee locks the door, forcing the wounded man to run off. The shooter gets away.
- Two men exit a vehicle at a Lawndale block party and open fire at a crowd of people, hitting a 13-year-old boy, two other teens and a 25-year-old man. The gunmen get away.
Aim, fire, flee. Or maybe not aim — just spray and go, leaving behind a scene of carnage, terrified residents and another crime for police to solve. That’s Chicago-style gun violence.
Think about the impact on your life and family if any of these incidents happened on the block where you live and no prompt arrests were made. Beyond the shock of exposure to violence, you’d fear for your safety because the perpetrator is still out there … somewhere. Will there be more random shootings? A targeted retaliation? Is your police department up to the job of crime-solving? Thousands of Chicagoans routinely have to ask those questions, knowing there are no certain answers.
Gun violence is a disaster for Chicago neighborhoods, but what aggravates it is the high percentage of such crimes that aren’t solved. Many shootings are gang-related, which are challenging for police to investigate. A wounded gang member may be an uncooperative victim, preferring to seek justice on the streets instead of in court. Witnesses who live amid the bloodshed may fear gang retribution if they help police. A bigger issue: A community member with knowledge of an incident may decide not to cooperate with police because he or she doesn’t trust them.
That’s all important background information, not an excuse. The Chicago Police Department struggles to crack violent crime cases. Chicago’s crime-solving rate — known as the clearance rate — for homicides is appallingly low: about 17 percent last year. The clearance rate for shootings is even lower. It has dropped from 11 percent in 2010 to 5 percent in 2016, according to a University of Chicago analysis. This is a scandal. When the bad guys recognize how easy it is to get away with murder, they feel emboldened.
Tribune reporters are examining the first weekend of August, when so many people were wounded and killed. The goal is to better understand criminal and policing patterns in order to seek explanations for the low clearance rate. This week the Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner and Annie Sweeney reported that so far, two people have arrested and charged with firing a gun in any of these 75 shootings. Just two.
One reason gang shootings are tough to crack is they often are sneak attacks: A shooter emerges from the shadows or fires from a moving car and disappears in a flash. In one of two cases that yielded an arrest, CPD used technology to catch a glimpse of the perpetrator. ShotSpotter acoustic sensors located the gunfire, allowing officers and analysts at the local district office to point video cameras in the direction of a fleeing car. Police made an arrest but couldn’t charge the suspect with attempted murder because the victim refused to testify. So authorities filed lesser charges including aggravated discharge of a firearm, being an armed habitual criminal and unlawful use of a weapon.
Another challenge for police is their strained relations with residents. CPD has a long record of officers abusing their authority and misusing force, especially in minority neighborhoods. The murder trial of Officer Jason Van Dyke, accused of shooting black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times, is Exhibit A. If people don’t trust the police, they won’t tip them off to what’s happening in the neighborhood.
Chicago has a crisis of gangs and guns. There’s no easy cure, but crime is certain to fester — and law-abiding residents will suffer — until more offenders are caught and convicted of violent crimes.
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