Date: July 12th, 2012 10:02 AM
By David Heinzmann, Chicago Tribune reporter
July 12, 2012
Violent crime has long afflicted minorities in Chicago at a much higher rate than the rest of the population, and the spike in homicides in the first half of this year provides an especially stark measure: 201 of the 259 homicide victims were African-American.
While blacks make up about 33 percent of the city's population, they accounted for nearly 78 percent of the homicide victims through the first six months of 2012.
By comparison, just 11 homicide victims in the first six months of the year were white, and 44 were Hispanic, according to police data.
The pattern is a familiar one in Chicago, where most violent crime happens in impoverished, mostly black neighborhoods on the South and West sides. Annual Chicago police statistics show a majority of both homicide victims and offenders are young black men with criminal records. With one exception, African-Americans have made up more than 70 percent of homicide victims in Chicago every year for the last two decades.
The Tribune reported Monday that 143 of the homicide victims in the first half of the year were listed as being at least affiliated with a street gang. The data obtained by the paper represent the Police Department's preliminary assessment of crimes and are subject to revision as investigations progress.
A deeper review of the numbers shows males ages 15 to 35 made up nearly three-quarters of African-American homicide victims. Police data showed that 133 of those 145 victims had arrest histories.
Of the 44 Hispanic victims, 27 were males ages 15 to 35 and had arrest histories, according to the data. Three of the 11 white victims were males in that age range with arrest histories.
As stress escalates in neighborhoods that are as dangerous as foreign war zones, African-American political leaders are expressing frustration with the policing strategies of police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel as well as the systemic problems in their communities.
Ald. Willie Cochran, a former police sergeant who represents the South Side's 20th Ward, said it's a struggle to guide young black men in his community onto a positive path. He touted vocational and education programs at nearby Kennedy King College but said young men on the street frequently tell him they can't take part in the programs he's promoting because they would have to traverse rival gang territory to do so.
"I can't put a program on every block," Cochran said, adding he challenges the men: "'You all have to get some kind of truce that will enable you to get some training and get you prepared to get yourself out of the situation you've gotten into.'"
When Emanuel was running for mayor, violent crime was reaching lows not seen in decades, but the candidate made safety conditions in the city's poorest neighborhoods a centerpiece of his campaign.
After his February 2011 election, he wrote in a transition paper: "Far too many Chicagoans still live in homes, neighborhoods, and communities where fear and violence persist. Despite progress in recent years, violence in Chicago, and gun violence in particular, exacts an enormous toll and exacerbates almost every other problem the city faces. As a city, we can and will do better."
Instead, the city has done much worse.
Through the first six months of the year, homicides were up by nearly 38 percent over last year.
Blacks made up 140 of the 188 victims in the first six months of 2011, according to police data.
Proportionally, there have been fewer children and young adults killed this year compared with last year, according to the data. In the first six months of this year, 45 homicide victims were between infancy and 19 years old, compared with 41 victims in that age range last year. At the other end of the age range, just a quarter of homicide victims were older than 40.
In communities where the cycle of violent crime — disputes, violence and retaliation — has become the norm, young people who have seen too much death develop hardened attitudes about violence startlingly early, Cochran said. After the gang-related killing of 13-year-old Tyquan Tyler last month, Cochran said he met with some of the boy's friends and came away unsettled.
"The most troubling thing I saw recently on the street was friends of the 13-year-old boy who was killed," he said. "Their exposure to this violence — and they are engagers of the violence — and their buy-in to have this prolonged."
Tribune reporter Joe Germuska contributed.
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