The beginning of December in Chicago tolls a more somber bell than simply the start of the holiday season. As the month began, there had been more than 700 murders in the city since the beginning of 2016. Last month alone, there were 77 people killed in Chicago. That number arises out of a devastating 316 shooting incidents with a total 389 victims.
The numbers put the city of Chicago into record-setting territory. 2016 has been the most violent year the city has seen since 1998—a year on the tail end of Chicago’s major struggles with the drug wars. The current year’s homicide and shooting victim tallies are greater than those of New York City and Los Angeles combined.
The year itself started with a terrible surge of killings—the first ten days of 2016 saw the shootings of over 100 people.
Such a dramatic uptick in violence comes at a time when Chicago’s police force is struggling to solve its growing paperwork piles of violent crime. Only a fifth of this year’s homicides cases have been solved. In 1998, over half the murders were solved—which means the efficacy of detective work for violent crimes has decreased.
Embattled Police, Betrayed Community
Chicago’s police have an uphill battle that is reflected both in the high crime rate and the lack of community transparency—the difficulties they face while attempting to solve crimes. Some would argue that those selfsame difficulties stem from the ways in which the city’s law enforcement push the limits on use of force. There exists a chicken-or-the-egg question, a philosophical thought looming over the past decades of Chicago’s violence. The influence of dangerous, violent gangs has its claws in the psyche and actions of many Chicago neighborhoods, but those same communities share a fear of law enforcement’s own violence.
In 2014, the police shooting of Laquan McDonald shattered much of what was left of community trust. The 17-year-old was shot 16 times during an altercation with police. Official statements about Mr. McDonald’s actions did not match the dashcam footage—released over a year later, and then only after a court order was filed.
A top criminal and civil rights defense attorney in Chicago, Michael Schmiege, observed, “The community felt as though the police acted with unnecessary violence and then subsequently covered it up—a one-two punch to the trust and support Chicagoans place in their law enforcement. If we want to change the tides of violence and mistrust in our city, the place to start is the relationship between cops and citizens.”
Since the incident, a new wave of police administrators has stepped up to the plate in Chicago. Additionally, the city is writing a new use of force policy, and changing the way they handle police misconduct.
Experts across the board believe that support from the community is absolutely crucial in solving crimes and stemming the growth of further violence. One move to decrease gun violence has been a police focus on keeping the guns themselves off the streets. The city is surrounded by states with relatively lenient gun laws, and police in Chicago have confiscated almost 8,000 guns since the start of 2016—that’s 20% more than in 2015. Gun arrest were also up, 8% higher than the same period last year.
Gang Violence, Systemic Corruption
According to Garry McCarthy, Chicago’s former Police Superintendent, “It’s very frustrating to know that it’s like 7 percent of the population causes 80 percent of the violent crime…The gangs here are traditional gangs that are generational, if you will. The grandfather was a gang member, the father’s a gang member, and the kid right now is going to be a gang member.”
Gang violence is a plague in the city, with law enforcement stretched to their limits to solve and combat crimes. The “generational” nature of the city’s many gangs mirrors a systemic lilt also seen elsewhere in Chicago—the city’s public institutions. The city itself has a history of its own “gangs” within the very fabric of the establishment.
Since 1976, a total of 1,642 city corruption allegations have resulted in convictions. The political science department of the University of Illinois at Chicago called the city the “corruption capital of America.” Chicago had 45 reported public corruption convictions in 2013 alone.
For years, the city has been attempting to overhaul the seeming infestation of corruption, from the mayor’s office to the police. It has proven a tall order. As recently as January of this year, at a press conference held after the conviction of a City Hall official, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois stated, “Public corruption [in Chicago] is a disease and where public officials violate the public trust, we have to hold them accountable. And I do believe that by doing so, it sends a deterrent message.”
Questions have been raised about the accuracy of crime statistics. While Chicago’s murders and shootings are undeniably high, officials and police officers have expressed concerns that crimes are being under-reported. If that is accurate, a number of factors may be contributing, including officers’ fears of the public scrutiny of policing practices, as well as the overall pressure to decrease crime rates.
It’s clear that criminal activity and violent crimes in Chicago are at incredibly unhealthy levels. But calling attention to the broken parts of the system—such as gang violence, systemic corruption, and a lack of community trust—is an important first step toward creating change.
There are many within the system, as well as outside it, who are actively working for change. Mr. Schmiege fights battles for the civil and constitutional rights of his defendants in Chicago’s courtrooms. He believes every individual deserves the best legal protection and has made it his mission to provide that defense.
If you’ve been accused of a crime, or are being investigated by law enforcement, the law offices of Mr. Schmiege stand ready to fight for your rights. From police misconduct cases to white-collar crimes, you can rely on his experience and expertise. Call him today.