The great city of Chicago has a number of things for which it is famous. Where would the world be without deep dish pizza? What would comedy be without Chicago’s Second City? It has a reputation for winds of the lake and frigid winters and very tall buildings.
It also has a notoriety for gun violence. It is a long-held infamy and it is deeply embedded in media consciousness and the reporting of violence in the city. Yet is a fallacy, at least to some extent.
Chicago is not the murder capital of the US
Reputations can and do change. New York City has made much of now being one of the safer cities in the US – a long way from its unsavory reputation of late last century. Chicago is also making the same sort of recovery, although there is a long way to go.
In terms of places that are more dangerous to live, Chicago comes comfortably far down the list. St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City (Mo), Memphis, and Newark (NJ) all figure higher than the Windy City.
What makes the difference is the how, not the numbers
90% of homicides in Chicago included a gun. The same is true of Philadelphia, and tragically the victims share a profile too. The murders are in poorer neighborhoods and concern younger black men.
Leaping to conclusions
It is not a huge jump from the statistic to leap to a conclusion. Violence is on the rise, (which it was somewhat between 2016 and 7) and it includes guns. Logically it follows that Chicago more than any other city has a problem with guns.
There’s an element of throwback
There’s also another edge to this easy categorization. Chicago was once famous for its jazz and its gangsters. This was the era of glamourized violence where gunmen had nicknames like ‘Dutch’ and ‘Spike’ and ‘Little Hymie’, and when the news reporting was, if anything, ever so slightly voyeuristic and not a little salacious. Today’s reporting, by comparison, is staid and sober with an appropriate tone of horror.
Is it fair?
The numbers say not. 2015 was the last year where the numbers have been collated and analyzed. Here’s the problem, in absolute numbers, more people were murdered in Chicago than anywhere else (Chicago recorded 478 homicides, New York had 352 homicides and Baltimore 344). 93% of those murdered in Chicago were shot.
Now if we draw back the focus a little, another picture emerges. Chicago’s homicide rate was 16.4 per 100,000 residents. New Orleans tops the list with more than 46 per 100,000 residents followed quickly by Detroit at 45 per 100,000.
Effectively it’s an inaccurate picture of a city that is not hiding away from the problems and is looking into the causes and the effects too.
The bottom line is, unless you’re very unlucky and really at the wrong place at the wrong time, you’re not going to get caught in the crossfire.