There were 80 homicides across the city from January through March of this year, according to Chicago Police Department data. That’s a nearly 30 percent increase over the number of homicides recorded in the first three months of last year and the highest number since the infamous summer of 2012, when more than 50 murders were recorded in March alone.
Most of the rise in deadly violence occurred in the city’s majority African American communities on the South and West Sides. In Austin, seven people were murdered in the first three months of 2015; up from five during that period last year. Among the city’s 77 designated communities, Austin — which is the city’s largest with nearly 100,000 residents — has logged the most murders so far this year.
Much of that violence can be attributed to the kind of weapons that killed West Side residents Andre Chatman, 23, and Carey Hollis, 28. The two men were gunned down in broad daylight on Sunday, March 15, by what observers say were semiautomatic guns. More than 400 people in Chicago were shot in the first three months of the year.
In response to the release of the CPD data, Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged the increased homicide levels, but added that police were also seizing more guns. He also pointed out that, overall, crime is down and emphasized the need for more stringent gun laws at the state level that would make the weapons harder for criminals and would-be criminals to access.
In the aftermath of the Chatman and Hollis murders, Austin activists pressed CPD Superintendent Gary McCarthy to institute more community-based policing strategies, such as the gun turn-in program implemented in 2012.
“We need to re-implement the gun turn-in programs that had been scrapped and we need to find out why they’ve been scrapped,” said Roman Morrow, a political strategist and community activist during a press conference held days after the March 15 shooting.
As part of the turn-in program, residents received gift cards in exchange for the weapons, “no questions asked,” according to the Chicago Inspector General’s 2013 audit of the program.
But the OIG’s audit also discovered that “up to 6.52 percent of the firearms that were turned over in exchange for $100 gift cards were, in fact, replicas that should only have earned $10 gift cards. The audit revealed that the misclassifications could have cost the city nearly $5,000 in overpayments,” according to an Austin Weekly News article.
Tio Hardiman, former executive director of CeaseFire Illinois and the founder of Violence Interrupters, said that many shootings happen as a result of interpersonal conflicts that can’t be resolved through laws.
“A lot of the killings are not always drug-related or gang-related,” Hardiman said. “Some of the killings are interpersonal conflict and we have to have the abilities and the skill sets to work things out with these young men.”
But funding for those organizations has only decreased over the past few years. In 2013, amid criticism from Chicago police, Mayor Rahm Emanuel opted not to renew a one-year, $1 million grant for the organization. And this March, Gov. Bruce Rauner cut CeaseFire’s funding by nearly 60 percent.
In March, Donald J. Dew, president and CEO of Habilitative Systems Incorporated, told Progress Illinois that some of CeaseFire’s funding was diverted to another organization, Adult Redeploy Illinois, which helps re-integrate nonviolent offenders into society.
“Both areas are needed, not just one,” Dew said, according to the Progress Illinois report. He emphasized that violence is the leading health epidemic in the country.
“Anytime when our (gun violence) statistics are higher than those in Iraq or Iran, we got an issue,” said Dew.
Some non-governmental organizations, such as Mt. Sinai Medical Center, have come upon creative ways to get around the lack of public funding apportioned violence prevention.
Mt. Sinai, one of only three Level I adult/pediatric trauma centers in the state, announced that it would partner the Israeli trauma treatment organization NATAL to treat victims of trauma on the West Side.
NATAL deploys therapists and trauma experts to the homes of Israeli bombing victims, but the organization also has an international footprint. Mt. Sinai is looking to model NATAL’s intimate, holistic approach to trauma treatment.
“While different in Israel, it is just as painful to our children and their families here in Chicago,” said Debra Wesley, the executive vice president for community outreach at Sinai Health System, and the president and founder of Sinai Community Institute, an arm of Sinai Health System.
“In Israel, they’re dealing with rockets,” she said. “We’re dealing with bullets.”