When I was in Medellin, Colombia, someone had brought up the name of Pablo Escobar when we were out for food and drinks. Escobar was an infamous drug lord who had lived in the Andes mountains near Medellin. My friend commented unhappily that they have to keep telling people that Escobar was killed in the 1990s, meaning he does not live there anymore. I told him I understand. We have to keep telling people that Al Capone no longer lives in Chicago. The crime boss died at his home in Florida in 1947. Sometimes the truth does not help you to shake your reputation.
1931 Photo Credit: cta Historical Photo Collection
At the present time you may hear that Chicago is the murder capital of the country, just like in the Capone days. The leader of our nation has said that crime here is “totally out of control.” He even tweeted recently that they might send in the feds if we do not solve the problem. While we are all dismayed at the uptick in violence in our city, one thing we know. We are not in the top ten in murders per capita on anyone’s list. We are not in the top twenty either. Depending on who is doing the measuring and what size cities they go by, we may even miss the top 30. I know it is hard to believe. Google it! You will find many news stories about Chicago, but you will also find plenty of articles about cities complaining they have a higher rate. You will find many web sites with rankings and wonder where we are. We’ll wait right here. Then come back and let’s talk about this.
The murder rate was up in 2016. We have not seen such rates since the 1990s. It was a big increase over 2015, but when you look at this on a per capita basis for large USA cities, you may ask, “What about Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis? What about Baltimore and Dayton? What about Milwaukee? Can we send the Feds there, too? Can we send them to Atlanta and Houston and Camden?” In fact there are many cities with increases, so why does Chicago get so much more coverage than the others?
Perhaps it is because we are the third largest city in the country. In comparison to New York and Los Angeles, the crime numbers are much higher. It is easy to look at the three together, as many newspaper articles are fond of doing. From that vantage point, we look very bad.
Lake Shore Drive
Perhaps it is because we are the center of the country. We have the busiest airports. We are at the crossroads of the nation. Highways, railways and even ocean carriers move through here, making this their hub and their home. As a center of commerce, there is no overstating Chicago’s significance.
Perhaps it is because the 44th President of the United States hails from here and the current leader — number 45 — would like to embarrass him. Perhaps it is because Chicago voted overwhelmingly for his opponent and he is trying to make an example of us. Or not. This is likely a minor issue as we were already getting plenty of coverage. But why don’t we read tweets about any of the cities in the Top 10 of murder rate per capita?
No matter where we rank, the problem has grown and something needs to be done, but send in the Feds? Absolutely. No big city mayor is going to turn down help fighting crime. But there is a slight problem with the leader’s promise. “What does it even mean?” 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale asked. “It is so vague.” What kind of help is he sending?
Representative from Chicago, Luis Gutierrez, (my Congressman, by the way) is not impressed with our leader “beating up” Chicago. “Chicago’s murder epidemic is more serious than a late night twitter threat from the new Tweeter-in-Chief,” he said. Other Chicago leaders from local aldermen to the Cardinal are unhappy with the treatment.
Instead of vague tweets, where is the partnership with the Justice Department, the FBI, DEA? If there are resources to send, our mayor is all for it. We are a big city with big city problems. There are certain types of help that would be meaningful and possibly effective. “Chicago, like other cities right now that are dealing with gun violence, wants the partnership with federal law enforcement entities in a more significant way than we’re having today,” Mayor Emanuel said.
In a breaking story this weekend, 20 more ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agents are being assigned to their office here. A request for this help is long-standing and the Mayor mentioned it to then president-elect 45 in a December 7th meeting (apparently fearless leader forgot about it). Federal gun prosecutions in this District fall way behind other big cities and resources were needed. If more agents have any effect at all, we know who will take credit.
It is tough to be in the spotlight, especially when the light is made brighter by a guy with a Twitter account. We are a world-class city with world-class attractions. We have fine airports and railroad stations. We have a lakefront that runs the length of the city with land that is open and free for all.
We have one of the largest fresh water lakes that supplies our drinking water and our summer playground. When I stand at the Planetarium out on the lake, I see what I think, in my biased viewpoint, is the greatest skyline in the country. If someone wants to send help, we are glad to have you. If someone wants to wage a Twitter war, can he pick on St. Louis and the Cardinals instead?
“Murders Up in U.S. Cities–But Crime Rate Still Near Record Lows,” Time, December 20, 2016
“Highest Murder Rate Cities,” Neighborhood Scout, Location, Inc.
“Most Dangerous Cities in the United States,” World Atlas
“FBI’s Violent Crime Statistics For Every City In America,” CBS local, October 22, 2015
“Emanuel to Trump: Chicago Would Welcome Federal Partnership to Quell Violence,” nbcchicago.com, January 25, 2017
“Rahm To Trump: ‘Straight Up,’ No Troops In Chicago,” dnainfo.com, January 25, 2017
“20 More ATF Agents On Their Way To Chicago,” Chicago Sun-Times, February 3, 2017