Tom Schuba et al., Chicago Sun-Times, June 8, 2020
A hardworking father killed just before 1 a.m.
A West Side high school student murdered two hours later.
A man killed amid South Side looting at a cellphone store at 12:30 p.m.
A college freshman who hoped to become a correctional officer, gunned down at 4:25 p.m. after getting into an argument in Englewood.
While Chicago was roiled by another day of protests and looting in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, 18 people were killed Sunday, May 31, making it the single most violent day in Chicago in six decades, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The lab’s data doesn’t go back further than 1961.
From 7 p.m. Friday, May 29, through 11 p.m. Sunday, May 31, 25 people were killed in the city, with another 85 wounded by gunfire, according to data maintained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
In a city with an international reputation for crime — where 900 murders per year were common in the early 1990s — it was the most violent weekend in Chicago’s modern history, stretching police resources that were already thin because of protests and looting.
“We’ve never seen anything like it, at all,” said Max Kapustin, the senior research director at the crime lab. “ … I don’t even know how to put it into context. It’s beyond anything that we’ve ever seen before.”
The next highest murder total for a single day was on Aug. 4, 1991, when 13 people were killed in Chicago, according to the crime lab.
Pfleger: A time bomb
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a longtime crusader against gun violence who leads St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, said it was “open season” last weekend in his neighborhood and others on the South and West sides.
“On Saturday and particularly Sunday, I heard people saying all over, ‘Hey, there’s no police anywhere, police ain’t doing nothing,’” Pfleger said.
“I sat and watched a store looted for over an hour,” he added. “No police came. I got in my car and drove around to some other places getting looted [and] didn’t see police anywhere.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on May 31 alone, Chicago’s 911 emergency center received 65,000 calls for all types of service — 50,000 more than on a usual day.
Pfleger noted the systemic problems that have plagued minority communities for decades — like joblessness, food insecurity and a lack of housing — were already heightened by the COVID-19 outbreak, which he said “made a bad situation worse.”
Floyd’s killing in Minnesota simply brought further to the fore the “hopelessness and anger” felt by those living in blighted communities, added Pfleger, who said the current unrest reminds him of the rioting that broke out when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
“It’s like a time bomb out here,” Pfleger said. “People are on the edge, people are angry, people are poor, and they don’t even know when it’s going to change.”
If immediate action isn’t taken to address systemic racism, poverty and “black folks being shot down and killed out here like dogs,” Pfleger said the last weekend in May will merely serve as a “coming attraction of what’s going to happen next.”
Most homicide victims in Chicago are young, black men, and the suspects are, too. But murders have fallen significantly in recent years, along with police-involved shootings. There were 764 murders and 12 fatal police-involved shootings in 2016, compared with 492 murders and three fatal police-involved shootings last year.
“The level of activity experienced over the last week has been unprecedented and the Department is actively investigating multiple incidents across the city and working to determine the motives in these cases,” Chicago Police spokesman Thomas Ahern said in a statement. “… The Department is actively working to seek justice for all the residents impacted, especially those who have been killed or injured by these senseless acts of violence.”
Ahern said after “increased violent and criminal activity” on Saturday, May 30, police canceled days off for all officers and placed them on 12-hour shifts in order to direct “our full force of manpower towards Chicago’s neighborhoods, particularly on the South and West Sides.”
Police attention diverted: expert
Kapustin of U. of C.’s crime lab said massive upheavals or protests typically require police departments to divert officers to respond to demonstrations.
“When CPD has to turn its attention elsewhere and there’s suddenly this vacuum that opens up, you also unfortunately see a picture like you saw with [last] weekend where you see an absurd amount of carnage, people getting injured and killed,” he said. “Those forces are still there.”
Kapustin said the current situation “lays bare a really nuanced understanding of the role of the police.”
“You have to sort of ask yourself: How are you going to get to a place where you have a police department that people respect and that has earned the trust of the community, but it’s still actually effective at reducing gun violence, which is the thing that plagues a lot of these neighborhoods,” Kapustin said. “And we’re so far right now from getting that figured out.”
‘Great, great deal of anxiety’
Andrew Holmes and Pastor Donovan Price have seen more anguish than most.
Both men respond to crime scenes across the city, offering support and comfort to the families of those killed.
Even for them, the last weekend in May was different.
“I’ve been experiencing a great, great, great, great, great deal of anxiety,” Price said. “I’ve been hurting, I’ve been paining, I’ve been crying, I’ve been losing sleep for the city because I love the city … And so I’ve been hurting for that, as well as watching it, to a certain level, not self-destruct but definitely take a sip of the poison every now and then.”
In Price’s view, collaboration between academics, clergy and neighborhood leaders has been lacking in the fight to tamp down violence.
“There’s a difference between swelling and growth, and the amount of programs and nonprofits and town halls and all of those things caused a swelling — mainly of the peoples’ heads who were doing them — in thinking that they’ve got this, they’ve solved this, we’ve got a handle on this,” Price said.
Even aside from his work in aiding bereaved families, Holmes knows violence all too well. His daughter was shot to death in Indianapolis in 2015. Two years later, a young cousin of his — an 11-year-old girl — was shot and killed in Parkway Gardens on the South Side.
In the last week, Holmes said, he’s felt “kind of numb” and can sometimes struggle to find words of comfort for grieving families.
“Because sometimes when they lose their baby, there’s not a right word that you can say … especially [to] a mother, a woman,” Holmes said. “It took her nine months to give birth and life to that baby, and it takes a second for a person to discharge that weapon [and] take that person’s life and that’s wrong. That’s a lot of pain.”