This city’s grim murder statistics continued to mount over the long holiday weekend, despite a few dozen civic block parties in besieged neighborhoods organized by residents alarmed at talk of a police slowdown.
By Monday night, in a surge of violence, the country’s third largest city had recorded more homicides this year than in New York and Los Angeles combined. Thirteen people were fatally shot, according to news reports, the oldest an 80-year-old pastor found shot in the face on the porch of a senior home where he lived. More than 60 were injured, including a pregnant woman whose baby was delivered at the hospital.
Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Chicago police superintendent, said the violence was due to repeat offenders in “impoverished” neighborhoods utilizing what he described as an absurd proliferation of guns on the streets.
“It’s not a police issue,” Johnson said at a news briefing Tuesday. “It’s a society issue . . . people without hope do these kinds of things.”
It has also become a campaign issue, with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump repeatedly invoking the homicide rate as evidence that Democrats have failed African-Americans living in inner cities.
The city has had nearly 500 homicides this year, amid persistent deteriorating relationships between police and citizens since last year’s release of a video that showed a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times. The officer was charged with murder, and a Justice Department civil rights investigation into the department continues.
Whatever the cause of the violence, it has become seeming unstoppable and terrifying, Jonas Lee, 37, said as he watched his two daughters in pink tiaras and black leggings play with their pet pug in the sunshine of Roseland park during a festival Sunday.
“I don’t like them outside at all,” he said of his daughters.
Last week, a woman was fatally shot in the area. Earlier this year, a friend of his family was shot in the head while sitting on his porch. “If it could happen to him, it could happen to anybody,” he says. His home is on the market, and a move to Indiana is imminent.
Compounding anxieties among people in high-crime neighborhoods is a series of memos from the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police that asked officers to refuse voluntary overtime during the holiday weekend, when violence has historically spiked.
The memos spurred activist Phillip Jackson to rally community groups behind what he called a “Community Peace Surge,” a play on the titles of the “Purge” movies, during which crime becomes legal and violence takes over the streets.
Through social media and word-of-mouth, the idea grew into a mixture of official events, like the festival where Lee’s daughters played, and homegrown activities, such as neighborhood cookouts.
Most people know that the police can’t stop the gunfire, said Jackson. But he said it felt like officers were abandoning their posts during times of great need, which he said confirmed the mistrust of police that lingers in these areas.
Fraternal Order of Police President “Dean Angelo basically said, ‘You guys are mad at us, so we won’t work,’ ” he said. “Yes, we are mad at you for shooting down young black boys in the street. What is a community supposed to think?”
The memos were not aimed at City Hall – the union’s contract is up next year – but were an attempt to encourage those officers who were uneasy after police were attacked and killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge to take some time off, Angelo said.
“This isn’t a work slowdown. … This is telling the guys you take your family for granted, we take ourselves for granted” too often, Angelo said in an interview. “We’ve got no support politically,” he added. “We occasionally get, ‘Most of them do a good job.’ A lot of time, when we hear something positive about the police, there is the proverbial ‘but’ that follows.”
A Chicago police spokesman said the union’s calls on overtime were not a factor in the weekend deployment.
Many people who were cooking hot dogs, passing out school supplies or watching their children get free haircuts over the weekend said they don’t blame individual officers for the homicide toll, which already has surpassed the toll for all of 2015. Instead, they reserve their anger at bureaucratic inighting amid the deaths of innocents – grandparents to toddlers – who were caught in crossfire.
“Un-American” is how Hal Baskin, 64, described the FOP memos. A lifelong resident of Englewood who helped organize several events in his neighborhood Saturday, Baskin said, “people are fed up.”
“We don’t care about their political agenda, we care about lives,” he said.
In Bronzeville, six women pooled $700 and rented a bouncy house, hired a DJ and bought hot dogs and other summer treats. Kaaron Johnson, 28, said that for too many years, people would stay indoors when street violence mounted over the summer.
“When the amount of violence skyrocketed this summer, people realized if we don’t do something, it’ll get out of hand,” she said. On Sunday, teenagers formed a line to synchronize dance moves while younger ones learned how to work the water nozzle on a ladder truck from members of the Chicago Fire Department. Parents rested on benches in a community garden and held smartphones up to video their children playing.
“This is the first time we’ve seen this kind of thing in years,” Johnson said. “We wanted the community to know it’s safe to come out and have a good time.”
There were 92 killings in August alone – one of the victims who received national attention was Nykea Aldridge, cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade, who was fatally shot while pushing her child in a stroller. That level of ongoing bloodshed has filled many Chicagoans with fear and anxiety: In a survey earlier this year, residents were found as likely to think young people in the city would become victims of a violent crime as graduate from college.
One of those young people, Frank Harris, 13, was sitting silently on a street curb in Bronzeville on Sunday, watching his friends lock dance moves together. “Scared,” he answered when asked how he feels living on these dangerous streets. “People keep dying over here.”
Darion Harris, 13, took a break from roughhousing with his cousins on the grass to admit he worries that a family member may be one of the unlucky ones he hears about on the news all the time.
He has a vision for a different future, he said: “More calm, silent, no shooting. Where you just hear the birds chirping and stuff.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Mark Berman, Mark Guarino