Violence in Chicago

For whatever reason, some people seem to point to the horrifying level of inner-city violence in Chicago as a response to calls for accountability following police misconduct in places like Columbia and North Charleston. In many ways, the illegitimate exercise of power by a law enforcement officer is distinct from violence between citizens.

Still, every social problem deserves attention, and the inner-city violence in Chicago is clearly a serious issue. According to the Chicago Tribune, there have been 2,338 shooting victims so far this year. In 2015, there were 2,988 shooting victims, including 468 reported as homicides. Among the 2015 killings was Tyshawn Lee, a 9-year-old boy who was shot to death last November in an alley.

Why are parts of Chicago so violent? The answers are wide-ranging. However, a report published by the National Institutes of Health suggests that some factors that increase the possibility of violence between people include scarce economic opportunities and a lack of public, mental health, and social services. The report also notes that parent and family-focused programs, early childhood education, and school-based programs are effective strategies to prevent violence. These interventions require funding, and some may oppose the idea of investing in low-income, high-crime areas. But the State of Illinois already devotes a considerable amount of funds to Chicago. According to data published by the Million Dollar Blocks project, there were 851 city blocks with over $1 million committed to prison sentences for adults from 2005 to 2009. During that period, over $550 million of taxpayer funds went to incarcerating residents in Austin, a seven square mile community located on the West Side of Chicago. Still, the area had the most homicide-related incidents in Chicago in 2015.

While society may not be capable of addressing every factor that can potentially lead to violence, research exists that identifies ways of dealing with some of the possible causes in cities like Chicago. Perhaps benevolent investments aimed at meeting some of the needs of high-crime areas would result in better outcomes than punitive investments focused on punishing people for wrongdoing.