December 20, 2016 at 5:00 AM
The violence in Chicago has continued unabated for much of 2016, with homicides and shootings both far ahead of last year even with days left in December. Chicago is one of multiple major American cities seeing an increase in killings since last year, deaths that are coming during a historically safe era but that have still sparked concerns in communities seeing more bloodshed.
Yet even though homicides have increased in several cities, the situation in Chicago stands out, both through sheer numbers and the effect it is having on homicide rates nationwide.
Consider this statistic: The homicide rate for the country's 30 biggest cities is expected to go up by 14 percent this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a New York-based law and policy institute. But the killings in Chicago account for an astounding 43.7 percent of this overall increase in killings, meaning that Chicago alone is responsible for nearly half of this spike.
The Brennan Center report is an update on a similar analysis released earlier this year, which similarly found that Chicago was accounting for an outsize share of the homicide increase. (A copy of the updated Brennan Center analysis, which was released publicly Tuesday morning, was provided to The Washington Post before it was published.)
As it did before, the Brennan Center report again cautioned against concerns about "out of control" crime levels. That particular phrase has been used by President-elect Donald Trump when discussing Chicago.
Trump has repeatedly discussed the violence in Chicago and crime in general, pitching himself during the presidential contest as the candidate of "law and order." During the campaign, Trump spoke ominously of "the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation," vowing to put an end to it after his inauguration. He also said that police in Chicago could put a stop to the bloodshed there "by being very much tougher than they are right now."
Trump has used his considerable public platform to highlight crime at a time when violence is rising in some places — in some cases speaking inaccurately about crime rates. Trump remarked during the campaign and after his victory — including, most recently, during a rally last week — that the homicide rate is the highest it has been in 45 years. This is untrue. (When Trump has referenced the biggest year-to-year increase in killings in 45 years, that is accurate, because that is what occurred last year, but the homicide rate is not at a 45-year peak.)
In Chicago so far this year, there were 738 killings through Sunday night, according to a police spokesman. The city seems poised to potentially top 750 killings for the year, a staggering total and one that means Chicago will finish 2016 with more killings than it has had in nearly two decades.
Chicago had 481 killings last year, police say, a number that was surpassed by the end of the Labor Day weekend this year. The city has also had more than 3,400 shootings, resulting in thousands of victims, police say. Authorities there blame repeat offenders using illegal guns, while police are also solving fewer homicides.
Some other cities have seen increases, though not as sizable as what has happened in Chicago. Police in Los Angeles say there were 274 homicides through early December, up slightly from the same time a year earlier, while shootings and shooting victims both ticked up as well. Earlier this month, Memphis broke its own record for the most homicides in a single year.
In other places, though, violence has declined. In New York City, there were 320 homicides through last week, down slightly from 336 at the same point last year, police statistics show. The number of shootings and shooting victims had also dropped by a little more than 10 percent.
Through last week, police in Baltimore reported 299 homicides, down from 321 at the same time in 2015, but more nonfatal shooting victims. There were 128 homicides through Monday in Washington, D.C., down from 157 on that date last year, police said.
Baltimore and the District share something in common with Chicago. Last year, the three cities accounted for more than half of the total increase in homicides in the country's biggest cities, Brennan reported. Yet while the killings have declined in two of those places, Chicago has seen its homicides continue to climb over last year.
Overall, the Brennan Center analysis released Tuesday reports that the overall crime rate is projected to rise this year by about 0.3 percent in the country's 30 biggest cities, while the violent crime rate is expected to go up by about 3.3 percent, fueled by Chicago and Charlotte.
While noting that crime rates remain at or near historic lows, the report released Tuesday also notes with apprehension the increase in killings.
"An increase in the murder rate is occurring in some cities even while other forms of crime remain relatively low," the analysis concludes. "Concerns about a national crime wave are still premature, but these trends suggest a need to understand how and why murder is increasing in some cities."