8.5.20

Despite lockdown, no letup in Chicago's murder rate

Chicago (AFP) - The streets of Chicago may be largely empty as residents hunker down from coronavirus but some of the city's most deprived neighborhoods are still echoing to the sound of deadly gunfire and raucous partying.

While significant falls in crime have been one of the few positive side effects of lockdowns in much of the United States and elsewhere, they have barely made a dent in the homicide rate in Chicago, a city that has long recorded the most murders in the country.



Chicago police say 56 murders were committed in April despite statewide stay-at-home orders -- only a fraction lower than the 61 for the same month in 2019 -- while last weekend, the first of the new month, four people were killed and 46 others shot and wounded.

New York by contrast, a city with a population almost three times that of Chicago, saw 31 homicides in April. Los Angeles, the second biggest city in the US, saw just 18 murders over a four-week period from late March.

Twenty-one of the weekend's victims were shot in a seven-hour period from Saturday night to Sunday, including five teenagers wounded in a drive-by shooting at a party on the city's West Side.

Reports said the shooting came hours after officers enforcing the statewide stay-at-home order broke up another party in the same block.

The West Side has some of the city's most crime-ridden neighborhoods and hundreds of people filled the streets there overnight Saturday into Sunday as revelers partied in defiance of stay-at-home orders.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot had earlier warned any potential partygoers or hosts that they would face arrest.

"We are not playing games," the mayor said at a Saturday news conference.

"We will shut you down, and if we need to, we will arrest you and take you to jail, period."

That didn't stop crowds gathering on the streets to dance to loud music, with little sign of social distancing or face masks.

- 'Horrible' segregation -

Video posted on social media showed partygoers knocking back alcohol and dancing on cars as police looked on. While officers did break up the parties, no charges were brought.

Chicago police told AFP that they would not "speculate whether or not victims/offenders are abiding by the stay-at-home mandate."

But Father Michael Pfleger, an activist priest who has worked in Chicago for more than 30 years, said respect for the authorities was limited in the city's poorer neighborhoods which have an overwhelming concentration of African-Americans.

"I think one of the reasons is that Chicago is more segregated than New York and LA," Pfleger said.

"Segregation here is horrible. You have segregated communities on the South and the West sides that you don't have in other cities. I also think that decades of ignoring these segregated communities hasn't helped."

Pfleger argued that someone who was prepared to commit murder was unlikely to be too bothered about observing a stay-at-home order.

Max Kapustin, senior research director at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, said most of the shootings and murders have occurred outdoors and both shooters and victims have ignored stay-at-home orders.

"We don't know if there's anything else related to COVID-19 that may be exacerbating the issue," he said.

Pfleger believes the pandemic has magnified every social problem that contributes to gun violence. But he also fears America's biggest problem -- racial and economic inequality -- will be ignored once the virus recedes.

To combat that, he is urging minority communities and activists to organize now and demand investment in their communities.

"I get so mad when I hear people say 'I just want to get back to normal.' No, normal was bad. Normal was evil and unjust. We want to create something new coming out of this."

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