How Chicago’s Streets Became the Wild West

Heather Mac Donald, Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2016

Someone was shot in Chicago every 150 minutes during the first five months of 2016. Someone was murdered every 14 hours, and the city saw nearly 1,400 nonfatal shootings and 240 fatalities from gunfire. Over Memorial Day weekend, 69 people were shot, nearly one an hour, topping the previous year’s tally of 53 shootings. The violence is spilling from the Chicago’s gang-infested South and West Sides into the business district downtown. Lake Shore Drive has seen drive-by shootings and robberies.

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Most victims in the current crime wave are already known to police. Four-fifths of the Memorial Day shooting victims were on the Chicago Police Department’s list of gang members deemed most prone to violence. But innocents are being attacked as well: a 6-year-old girl playing outside her grandmother’s house earlier this month, wounded by gunfire to her back and lungs; a 49-year-old female dispatcher with the city’s 311 call center, killed in May while standing outside a Starbucks a few blocks from police headquarters; a worker driving home at night from her job at FedEx, shot four times in the head while waiting at an intersection, saved by the cellphone at her ear.

Police officers who try to intervene in this disorder often face virulent pushback. “People are a hundred times more likely to resist arrest,” a police officer who has worked a decade and a half on the South Side told me. “People want to fight you; they swear at you. ‘F— the police, we don’t have to listen,’ they say. I haven’t seen this kind of hatred towards the police in my career.”

Antipolice animus is nothing new in Chicago. But the post-Ferguson Black Lives Matter narrative about endemically racist cops has made the street dynamic much worse. A detective told me: “From patrol to investigation, it’s almost an undoable job now. If I get out of my car, the guys get hostile right away.” Bystanders sometimes aggressively interfere, requiring more officers to control the scene.

In March 2015, the ACLU of Illinois accused the Chicago PD of engaging in racially biased stops, locally called “investigatory stops,” because its stop rate did not match population ratios. Blacks were 72% of all stop subjects during a four-month period in 2014, said the ACLU, compared to 9% for whites. By the ACLU’s reasoning, with blacks and whites each making up roughly 32% of the city’s populace, the disparity in stops proves racial profiling.

This by now familiar and ludicrously inadequate benchmarking methodology ignores the incidence of crime. In 2014 blacks in Chicago made up 79% of all known nonfatal shooting suspects, 85% of all known robbery suspects, and 77% of all known murder suspects, according to police-department data. Whites were 1% of known nonfatal shooting suspects in 2014, 2.5% of known robbery suspects, and 5% of known murder suspects, the latter number composed disproportionately of domestic homicides. Whites are nearly absent among violent street criminals–the group that proactive policing aims to deter.

Despite the groundlessness of these racial-bias charges, then-Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the city’s corporation counsel signed an agreement in August 2015 giving the ACLU oversight of stop activity. The agreement also created an independent monitor. “Why McCarthy agreed to put the ACLU in charge is beyond us,” a homicide detective told me.

On Jan. 1 the department rolled out a new form for documenting investigatory stops to meet ACLU demands. The new form, called a contact card, was two pages long, with 70 fields of information to be filled out. This template dwarfs even arrest reports and takes at least 30 minutes to complete. Every card goes to the ACLU for review.

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