After having lived in Chicago for years, and with family still there, I follow the city closely, and that news caught my attention. I tweeted at Sarah Jindra, the traffic reporter for WGN-TV in Chicago, asking if a shooting-related highway shutdown was unusual.
No, she answered — at the beginning of September, she had reported on four highway shooting investigations in one week, and there were three overnight on Sept. 30 alone.
Jindra further reported that this year the Illinois State Police have responded to 185 highway shootings in Cook County, home to Chicago, compared with 128 last year and just 43 in 2018.
Pick just about any street, any neighborhood, in any part of town, and there have been incidents of gun violence, stabbings, carjackings — and not just areas on the West Side and South Side with traditionally high crime rates.
Police have set up roadblocks in River North, home to trendy restaurants owned by Rick Bayless and José Andrés, and hotels frequented by tourists, aiming to catch criminals. There have been recent shootings on a city bus, in the popular West Loop business district, the Uptown neighborhood on the north side.
Chicago is used to summertime crime waves, when people are out and frustrations rise along with the heat. But this year’s outbreak seems unending, leading to a scramble for solutions and much finger-pointing.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s latest idea is to sue gang leaders for their profits from alleged crimes, an idea modeled after a 1993 state law that let communities pursue gang funds. Gang leaders don’t seem particularly concerned.
“I’ve asked a lot of them, especially in the Hispanic community, what they think about it,” Oscar Contreras, a former Los Angeles gang member now working at an outreach program in Chicago, told ABC Eyewitness News. “They laughed.”
Duncan’s group joined others recently in flying a banner over the city that read, “Jobs stop bullets.”
That puts Chicago on pace for the most killings in the city in a quarter-century. In 1996, the crime wave was fueled by crack cocaine. This time, it’s harder to pin on a single cause, but one thing appears certain: Fear of going to jail for a gun crime no longer seems a deterrent. And as is true of the FBI’s 2020 data nationwide, it’s essentially just violent crime that’s rising — theft is down 10 percent in Chicago compared with last year.
A prominent lawyer friend, whose office is in an iconic building on the Near North Side, told me he’ll continue working from home instead of driving to work, even though his firm reopened as pandemic restrictions eased. He doesn’t feel safe idling curbside, worried that he’ll be the next carjacking victim.
There is a rising sense of impunity in this crime wave. Chicagoans were shaken in August when Ella French, a 29-year-old police officer, was shot to death during a traffic stop. She was the first female Chicago cop killed in the line of duty in more than 30 years.
No city wants crime to be its hallmark. Newark and Detroit struggled with that for years. Chicago has treated its criminal history with grim humor — multiple companies offer tours of legendary crime sites. Decades from now, nostalgia for the Chicago of 2021 isn’t going to be a thing.
Everyone knows that what’s happening in the city is a disaster, yet no one is offering a plausible rescue plan. When you don’t feel protected from gunfire even when driving on a highway, that’s an emergency. Chicago must make its own residents feel safe, let alone the visitors the city needs to build back its economy.