Gun Violence in Chicago
Gun violence is a common problem experienced throughout the United States for many decades. Annually more than 11,000 innocent people die in gun-related violence (Amnesty International 1). Gun violence inflicts some reactions related to the human rights in particular right to life, movement, and freedom, security, education, and discrimination. However, Chicago stands out amongst the cities widely known for gun violence. The southern side of the city sparks most of the gun violence incidences that take place in Chicago City. The reasons behind high cases of gun violence in the South Side of Chicago are complex, but the common ones include unemployment, poverty, and fragmentation of gangs across the south side of the city, poor access to education and other factors.
The rates of gun violence crimes in Chicago are at 30% annually which are significantly contributed to the southern side of the city. Chicago city continues to grapple with gun violence and murder even today. The years 2002 and 2008 are remarkable for the city having recorded more gun murders than any other city in the U.S considering the mass killings of New York and Los Angeles during the two years (Meares, Papachristos, & Fagan 2). Today, just like the past, gun violence problem arises from the critical nexus of gang violence and illegal guns. For the past few years, the city records an average of not less than 500 murders annually where 80% of these killings are as a result of gun violence, and most of them are related to gang activities and disputes (Meares, Papachristos, & Fagan 2).
The Project Safe Neighborhood Programs collected data on the city's gun violence crimes and analyzed it scientifically. The analysis revealed that the enormous gun violence related cases in Chicago is as a result of small numbers of neighborhoods responsible for the killings. The crime problems associated with the city are socially and geographically concentrated in a few socially and highly poverty stricken neighborhoods (Meares, Papachristos, & Fagan 2). Most of these neighborhoods are found in the southern part of the city. Most of the victims including the offenders of gun violence are the young African American people mainly men on the South sides of the Chicago city.
Analysis of that data also demonstrated that offenders and victims of the gun violence comprise of small gangs of individuals who had repeated encounters with law enforcement officers. Approximately more than 60% of the homicide victims and 80% of the homicide offenders had a prior arrest before they die (Meares, Papachristos, & Fagan 2). Moreover, gun violence offenders in those neighborhoods had an average of three-time incarceration in their adulthood. These facts prove that the most group of individuals to commit gun violence killings or falling victims is mostly concentrated amongst the persistent young offenders. According to the PSN data analysis on the area, the population of the common offenders is less than 1% of the Chicago, approximated as 1,500 young men.
According to the University of Chicago Crime Lab 2016, 764 people were killed in Chicago in 2016 alone. In the same year, the city experienced a rise of 58% homicide rates and 43% nonfatal gun violence. A year increase of homicide violence with such as large rate is not unprecedented amongst the United States' cities but is rare for the size of Chicago (University of Chicago Crime Lab 3). The rise was sudden considering that in December 2015 there no signs that gun violence revives again compared to a decade ago. However, in 2016, gun violence crimes sharply rose, and they were highly constant for the greater part of the year.
Chicago Population Distribution
According to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney's Office Northern District of Illinois report, Chicago is the third largest metropolitan area in U.S and the largest city in Illinois with about 9.5 million people with 2.7 million living in the city. The city consists of different races with approximations as follows; blacks 33%, white 32%, Latino 29% and 8% as multiracial or Asian ("Crime In Chicago - Chicago Tribune"). The area median income falls below that of the national average where the former is $48,522 while the latter is $53,889. This data demonstrates that 22% of the population lives below the federal poverty line.
The city's unemployment rates are approximated to be 5.5% where the Blacks and Latinos residents are poorer compared to the white inhabitants. It is also worthwhile noting that approximately 25% of the Latinos and 35% of the Blacks live below the below the poverty line ("Crime in Chicago"). Contrary, only 11% of the White residents live below the poverty threshold. There is a huge gap between the mean household incomes of the Blacks compared to that of the Whites where White residents have $61,500 as opposed to the Blacks $30,400.
Putting more focus on the south side of Chicago can substantially explain why there are so many crimes in the region. The living standards of the South Chicago residents live a relatively lower life compared to the other parts of Chicago. According to the 2010 census, the south side had a population of 31,198 occupying 3.35 square miles which are the square area of the region. The south side has a population density of 9,324 /sq. mi, per capita income of $15,393, households below the poverty line make up 28.0%, unemployment rates of 17.7% and 5.9% of the residents live in crowded housing. Residents without high school diplomas comprise 28.2% while those between the age of 16 years and 64 years make up 43.1% of the total population ("Crime in Chicago-Chicago Tribune"). These demographics, especially those related to education, poverty and unemployment levels give a clear picture of the potential factors behind the increased crime rates particularly those related to gun violence.
Key Reasons for Increased Gun Violence in the South Side of Chicago
Poverty is amongst the primary factors that contribute to most of the crimes including gun violence. Most of the perpetrators carry out crimes to provide for their basic needs and luxurious lives which they haven't afforded. Poverty is prevalence in the south side of Chicago, and when poverty-stricken residents get access to firearms, they commit homicides or suicides. Addressing poverty about gun violence amongst other social factors, it becomes precise that guns exacerbate other social issues that communities and individuals face.
People who have hope for a brighter future rarely do they engage in criminal activities as they work hard towards the realization of their dreams. They will rarely pick and demand valuables from others nor will they commit suicides due to poverty (Bennett). Even though the government works hard towards the elimination of gun violence with high levels of poverty, gun violence will remain a problem. Gun violence is a sign of regions or societies that fail to give hope and opportunities to their people, in particular, those who are still struggling with poverty (Bennett). These societies also prove that they don't provide mental health access to their people. In most cases, their people suffer from the war on drugs.
The concentration of poverty leads to high levels of changes in negative social behaviors that are likely to cause increased crime rates. According to the geographical data on the Chicago south side, it is evident that most of the south side neighborhoods still lag behind compared to others ("Crime in Chicago-Chicago Tribune"). One explanation of this fact is that, if a district comprises some poor and wealthy people, or it is adjacent to wealthy people, these poor are likely to use violence against the rich ones (Amnesty International 2). Poor individuals of the south side neighborhoods are induced to resolve to violent crimes that include guns just to bridge the huge gap between them and the rich.
Gang Violence and Gang Fragmentation
Chicago holds amongst the highest gang populated parts in the entire United States. For instance, according to a report released by the Chicago Police Department, there were more than 59 active gangs only in Chicago with different factions amounting to 625 in the city (Amnesty International 3). The combined membership of only the active gangs comprised of 70,000 members. The police report also indicated that above 80% of the gang killings that take place in Chicago are gang related.
When police officers target the gang leaders for arrest, the issue becomes complicated since it results in fragmentation of larger gangs. They are difficult to deal with since they are always in the groups. Demolitions carried out in 2011 of the public housing units in Chicago worsened the situation since there were increased fragmentations and dispersions among the city (Amnesty International 3). It is worthwhile to note that the long neglect of the city from by many administrations, the housing developments in most of the Chicago parts symbolized many areas were poverty stricken and provided better hiding places for gangs to flourish.
The efforts by the Chicago administration to demolish the crumbling structures particularly the buildings as a way of relocating its citizens to the 25,000 public housing units terrorized the situation (Amnesty International 3). Most of the gangs dispersed during the exercise throughout Chicago and other territories. Others joined the south side of Chicago, an area is known for the most gang violence across the Chicago territories. The exercise also split these gangs into hundreds of independent groups with their new leaders and factions. The increased disordered hierarchy led to the recruitment of the juveniles who held positions in various gangs and indulging in criminal activities. Minors as young as 15 years could join their gangs of choice.
Sometimes, there are leaks within the police department due to the many administrations in a bid to end the violence in Chicago. The fallout between the police departments fray relationships with the minority communities that significantly contribute to complicated issues that law enforcement officers face (Saul). Fractured gang structures comprise of young people, with an endless supply of guns in the streets, and impulsive members pose threats to the police officers. The police force may grow hesitant despite the possible criticisms and heightened attention. Such situations lead to crime prevalence in the south side neighborhoods since police officers have for decades suffered from inadequate opportunities and resources to effectively deal with the gangs.
Gang and gang fragmentation in the south side of Chicago is not a new story since the region has a history that backs from the 1960s. The primary cause of the gun violence in Chicago is the existence of the gangs (Chicago Police Department Report 6). 2016 was the bloodiest year in Chicago due to the increased gangs in the region (Saul). Frequent and deadly attacks characterized the year according to the law enforcement authorities and social workers. Southside inhabitants and other Chicago residents believe that budget cuts by the government that financed the antiviolence social workers who significantly reduced gun violence and deadly police shootings and alleged misconducts have worsened the relationship between the residents and the cops (Saul).
It is worth noting that there are increased juveniles joining the gangs for leadership positions and others. This trend moves from one generation to the other making it challenging to end these gangs. Minors who join these gangs feel unsafe in their neighborhoods for violence in the Chicago city and increased gun possession. Law enforcing authorities in Chicago find it challenging to combat the increased crime activities on the south side that also increases the challenge for security right and rights to life for everyone.
Access to Guns and Gun Violence
According to the Chicago Police Department report, there were more than 17,000 illegal guns between 2008 and 2012 in Chicago alone (Amnesty International 4). More than 10,000 of these weapons originated outside Chicago. These statistics proves that there are still many people owning illegal guns which significantly contribute to the increased gun violence in Chicago particularly in the Southside. Most of these gun owners are gangs that originate from various places in Chicago among them the south shore (Amnesty International 4). No effective or clear federal statute classifies gun statute as a federal crime. The fight against illegal guns is tough since gun regulations vary from one state to the other making it possible to practice gun trafficking easy across the state boundaries. Most of the federal legislations target straw purchases, traffickers, unscrupulous dealers and private dealers without establishing background checks of these guns.
Access to illegal firms is an issue not only on the south and west side of Chicago but also for the entire Chicago. Chicago and Illinois are very strict related to gun ownership, but still, gun traffickers manage to bring weapons into Chicago (Amnesty International 4). Chicago has taken broad steps towards prevention of gun access through various measures that outlaw high-capacity ammunition and ownership of assault weapons (Chicago Police Department Report 2). The city also seeks to finish the sale of firearms within the city completely. However, less strict rules by the surrounding states allow illegal weapons access in Chicago.
Possession of firearms is common among criminals who are used to arrests. Most of the arrestees claim that it is easy and takes a little time for them to acquire guns illegally (Decker, Pennell & Caldwell 1). Among individuals who have used guns, they have substantially used them for sometimes to commit various crimes. Some arrestees can easily acquire guns than others particularly those who are in gangs or those who sell drugs. The strongest association between gun access and youths is that most of the gangs have successfully recruited juveniles and provided them with guns. These minors and other criminal activities will carry out various crime activities using these guns.
Poor education and gun violence
Chicago is amongst the American cities which have been hit by school closures as a result of increased gangs. In 2013, 49 elementary schools were closed in Chicago alone marking the biggest closure of elementary schools in U.S history that also comprised 10% of public schools in Chicago (Amnesty International 5). The schools closed were African American communities predominated. Approximately, 30,000 students primarily African Americans, about 80% were significantly affected by the wave of the closure. The increased gang activities led to the closure of these schools resulting in long distance walks for other schools for the interested students. This led to increased violence since those who couldn't make efforts of moving to other distant schools joined the gangs. This state was still prevalent on the south side of Chicago and significantly contributed to high levels of gun violence on the south side of Chicago.
Poor education attributed to gang violence is amongst the main factors that make many young people join the gangs. Gangs have their ammunition which that they provide the recruits. They perform various crimes with the use of guns thereby increasing the number of gun attacks in Chicago (Amnesty International 5). Young people who don't take their rights to education or will just learn a little and drop out, most remain in Chicago and due to the high unemployment rates, and they turn out to be criminals. With easy access to illegal guns, they are responsible for the increased gun violence in various parts of Chicago including the south side.
Chicago has a long history of gun violence across all the United States cities. The violence is attributed to various factors as I have highlighted in this paper. Chicago's gun violence statistics clearly indicate that there is much to be done to fight the weapon violence cases completely. High levels of poverty play a significant role in the increased cases of violence in Chicago. As most people strive to make their ends meet, they will indulge in criminal activities. The high level of poverty is a result of high rates of unemployment. Young people have ganged up to commit various criminal activities which are made easier by the illegal access of guns. Poor education amongst the young people leaves them frustrated and end up joining gangs.
While the entire Chicago is affected by gun violence, its south side is far much affected since most of the gun violence attacks arise from the south side. The government needs to address each of the above issues to reduce the high rates of gun violence. It is required to raise the living standards of the Chicago residents, create employment opportunities, completely fight off gun trafficking and illegal ownership and last create forums and programs to undermine the gang's activities as it looks on how to shut them.
Amnesty International. Bringing Human Rights Home: Chicago and Illinois: Gun violence. USA. 2014.
Bennett, Matt. "Gun Violence and Poverty Matt's Mumblings." Coldspringcenter.Org, 2016,
Chicago Police Department Report. Chicago Ends 2015 with Continued Reductions in Overall Crime, Despite Challenges. 2016
Chicago Police Department Report. Tracing the Guns: The Impact Of Illegal Guns On Violence In Chicago. May 17, 2014.
"Crime in Chicago - Chicago Tribune". Crime.Chicagotribune.Com, 2017
Decker, S., Pennell, S., & Caldwell, A. Illegal Firearms: Access and Use by Arrestees. January 1997.
Meares, T., Papachristos, A., & Fagan, J. Homicide and Gun Violence in Chicago: Evaluation and Summary of the Project Safe Neighborhoods Program. 2009.
Saul, Josh. "Chicago's Murder Rate Keeps Rising, and The Gangs Can't Be Stopped." Newsweek, 2017
United States Census Bureau. U.S. Census 2010: Chicago Region.
University of Chicago Crime Lab. Gun Violence in Chicago, 2016 January 2017.
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