CHICAGO — Sixty-six people were shot in Chicago from early Friday evening to early Monday morning, 12 of them fatally. It’s a high number that marks a low point of the year for the city. This past weekend’s youngest shooting victim was only 11 years old.
Violence on such a scale is always tragic. And unfortunately in America, particularly when it comes to Chicago, there is always a tragically narrow and predictable reaction: blaming the scourge on a lack of support for the police and the political cowardice of urban Democrats.
Since the shootings, President Trump’s personal lawyer and the former New York City mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, has taken to Twitter and continued that pattern, using the carnage as an opportunity to denounce Mayor Rahm Emanuel and bolster his election opponent, former police superintendent Garry McCarthy, who was fired amid the fallout from the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old.
“Give Garry McCarthy your support @Garry4Chicago. Tomorrow I will get you information to contribute. MAKE CHICAGO SAFE AGAIN! He can do a lot better than Mayor Emmanuel who is fiddling while Chicago burns,” he tweeted, along with a flurry of similar posts.
Besides originally mistaking Mr. McCarthy’s first name(and misspelling the mayor’s last name) — and failing to say that Mr. McCarthy himself is a Democrat (albeit self-identifying as “conservative”) or to note the response of Mr. McCarthy, a former New York deputy police commissioner, rejecting his former boss’s support — Mr. Giuliani’s statements were riddled with falsehoods. But they’re familiar to any Chicagoan who has seen the city’s trauma make national headlines: The complexities of the gun-violence affliction get flattened and distorted to fit into the contours of a simplified, politically convenient argument.
Mr. Giuliani’s tack, one he shares with President Trump and a long lineage of “tough on crime” politicians, dates back to his pre-mayoral days when he singled out New York’s Democratic mayor, David Dinkins, as soft on crime and “the one reason, and one reason alone,” that morale was low among the city’s rank-and-file police officers.
Mr. McCarthy did indeed lead the city’s data-driven CompStat system in the ’90s, which not only overlapped with Mr. Giuliani’s tenure, but also coincided with a sharp decline in the crime rate across nearly all major cities in the country, many without New York-style data systems or crackdowns on so-called quality-of-life crimes.
As the statistical adage goes, correlation does not imply causation. The verdict from mainstream sociologists and criminologists alike is that there is a clear and obvious reason for neither the widespread decades-long decline in violent crime nor its recent spike in big cities like Chicago.
When Mr. McCarthy came to Chicago in 2011, the city’s homicide rates had steadily declined to their lowest levels since the 1960s. After a troubling rise in 2012, the Chicago Police Department under Mr. McCarthy was under pressure to get the numbers down, and to his credit, it did.
Still, the specific forces behind the spikes and dips have vexed both independent observers and public servants honest about how unwieldy and multilayered the roots of violence are. A popular but unproven answer is the “Ferguson effect” (or in Chicago, the “Laquan McDonald effect”), which maintains that police officers are being undermined and unfairly maligned by politicians and the public and in response are retreating from proactive policing.
The “let cops be cops” solution — most recently peddled on “Fox & Friends” in light of the bloody weekend — feeds the delusion that police officers themselves can actually control crime, that the causes of and prescriptions for plagues like gun violence are untied to socioeconomic factors.
Giving the police more of anything — more numbers, more money, more liberties — to quell violence is still a reactionary, and thus limited, posture. And yes, so is simply calling for tougher gun laws (regulations the city of Chicago has, but its immediate surrounding area does not). To the communities affected, policing and gun laws are only parts of the puzzle.
Missing from Mr. Giuliani’s playacting concern for Chicago — and too often absent from the familiar pattern of reactions in our media — is an exploration of what the communities whose residents are being disproportionately shot and killed say they want.
On the city’s predominantly black and Latino South and West Sides, there are some who may want more police officers and stricter gun laws, and some who may not. But surely none wants only those things.
There’s been talk, fanned by President Trump, of sending in the National Guard. And the city is actively pursuing plans to spend $95 million on a new police training center.
But the activist and community groups already on the ground like The Black Youth Project 100 and Assatta’s Daughters have long been arguing for a more holistic plan of action that unifies increased resources with organized mentorship of the most at-risk young people and more investment in educational programming, along with more democratic police accountability.
A frequent and inaccurate response to Chicago’s gun violence is that the people most affected by it aren’t doing anything to change it. Many are doing whatever they can.
Most recently, community groups like CureViolence and The Faith Community of St. Sabina Church helped organized peaceful protests that took over the Dan Ryan Expressway and Lake Shore Drive — the city’s most famous thoroughfare — to try to bring the attention and political urgency necessary to shake local institutions into seeing them as equal partners in identifying remedies.
For all the years Chicago has struggled with gun violence, there’s never been a fully energized effort by the city’s Democratic machine to create that sort of Marshall Plan. Yet there has never been a Republican proposal for such a holistic approach, either.
If Mr. Giuliani’s cynical pitch for more Republican leaders and more intense policing was carried out, it would actually lead to the same thing he’s accusing opponents of: not mitigating the violence, just managing it.
Kim Bellware is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Vice News and Chicago Magazine. For five years, she covered criminal justice for HuffPost.