Gun violence in Chicago has spiked over the Memorial Day long weekend. With two days left to go before the end of the holiday weekend, residents on the city’s West Side are anxious about continued violence.
According to the Chicago Tribune, as of Sunday morning, the death toll currently stands at four. Among the dead is a 15-year-old girl who was shot while riding in a Jeep along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. There have been an additional 36 wounded so far this weekend.
Many of the shootings were concentrated in and around the Harrison District on Chicago’s West Side. The area is notorious for its persistent gun violence and drug operations. Despite its rather average size, the district is patrolled by more officers than any other area in the city due to its high-risk environment.
For many Americans, Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer and all it brings including beach trips, cold drinks, and family barbeques. For those living in troubled areas like the Harrison District in Chicago, the arrival of the Memorial Day long weekend and warmer weather means an expected increase in gun violence as well.
There is some debate on the correlation between weather and heightened violence, but many admit that gun violence tends to spike when the temperature rises and more people are out and about. What’s evident is that the homicide rate in Chicago has been on the rise. Experts are quick to remind the public to keep perspective – recent numbers are nothing compared to the homicide rates of the early 1990s that routinely topped 900 per year. But the Chicago Tribune’s report that the city is outpacing the annual homicide rates of more populous cities like New York and Los Angeles is a sobering fact for many residents.
Chicago’s gun violence is a highly publicized issue, and it has recently come under additional national scrutiny due to the increased tension between Chicago residents and the city’s police force. In 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago PD officer Jason Van Dyke. The dash cam footage was later released after more than a year of public pressure. Van Dyke was subsequently charged with first-degree murder, but the shooting and subsequent cover-up badly damaged the relationship between law enforcement and Chicago’s marginalized communities.
This strained relationship has reportedly made it increasingly difficult for cops to patrol neighborhoods. Additionally, keeping tabs on potential criminal activity or arresting suspects relies in large part on conversations between residents and law enforcement officials. According to the New York Times, the resentment and suspicion felt towards police has created an environment in which residents are hesitant to come forward as witnesses and share leads with police.
Some observers have attributed the spike in gun violence to low morale among officers that are anxious about how to walk the line between taking a proactive approach to crime and avoiding complaints of harassment. The Chicago Tribune reported a decrease in arrests as officers second-guessed their actions or spent more time filling out paperwork. On the other hand, critics counter that the public trust is something that needs to be earned – a trust that they say police have damaged by regularly infringing on people’s constitutional rights and covering up fellow officer’s bad behavior.
Police and politicians are quick to reassure the public that the gun violence is the result of a small group of individuals and that Chicago, in general, is a safe city. Public relations aside, it’s clear that Chicago is in the midst of dealing with a perfect storm of racial tensions, defensive police officers, and a steadily rising homicide rate.
In light of this weekend’s gun violence, police have promised to increase their presence in Chicago’s West Side, as well as other areas, over the next few days.
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