Much of what you believe about murders in Chicago may not be true. Consider the recent widespread media coverage of Chicago murder victims like 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, the innocent honor student who was shot to death in January not far from President Obama's house less than two weeks after she performed at his second inauguration.
Think also about 18-year-old Janay McFarlane, shot and killed in February on the same day that her younger sister sat two rows behind President Obama when he delivered a speech at Hyde Park High School. Although Janay's murder happened in a northern suburb of Chicago, it added to the general view that murders in Chicago are on the increase, and perhaps more out of control than ever.
That isn't exactly accurate.
Of course, every murder is one too many, and the reported 506 murders of 2012, and the 61 that have so far occurred in 2013, are quite alarming and unacceptable. People are outraged by the senseless ways that most of the Chicago murders happen, the reckless use of handguns, the high number of young people as both victims and offenders, the record number of unsolved cases, and the added strain on mainly Black and Hispanic communities, with no clear solutions to the killings in sight. Additionally, the 24-hour news cycle, the proliferation of social media and the fact that our president is associated with the South Side of Chicago have subjected the city to additional media attention. However, it’s important to understand the numbers to get a better picture of what's going on in the city.
Chicago Murders From 1991-2011*
-Prior to 2012, murders in Chicago had decreased by 53 percent over a 20-year period, with 928 murders in 1991, and 433 in 2011—the City's lowest since the 1960s.
-Chicago is 237 square miles and has 25 police districts. Of the city's 2.7 million residents, over 887,000 are Black.
Cases Cleared (1991-2011)
-Clearance is when an arrest is made and the offender is prosecuted, or when the police know who committed the crime and have enough evidence, but for some reason, they cannot be arrested, charged, or prosecuted (i.e. when the offender is dead).
-On average, Chicago police cleared 46 percent of murder cases, with the highest clearance rate of 67 percent in 1991, and the lowest happening over the last two years, with 28 percent in 2010, and 30 percent in 2011.
Chicago Communities With The Highest Murder Rates (2007-2011)
-There were 2,289 murders in Chicago between 2007 and 2011.
-Fifty percent of those murders happened in six (24 percent) of the city's 25 police districts.
-The average Chicago murder rate was 21 murders for each 100,000 residents.
-The six districts with the highest murder rates had as many as 38 to 67 murders per 100,000 residents.
-These high murder police districts are on average 94 percent African American.
Four of them (districts 2, 3, 6, and 7) are next to each other on the eastern section of the South Side. This includes nine communities: Grand Boulevard (former location of the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project), Washington Park, Woodlawn, Greater Grand Crossing, South Shore, Englewood & West Englewood (home of Jennifer Hudson and Derrick Rose), Auburn Gresham, and Chatham. The other two Chicago police districts with the highest murder rates (districts 11 and 15) boundary each other on the central section of the West Side and include the four communities of Austin, Humboldt Park, West Garfield Park, and East Garfield Park.
-Although there are differences among them, 32 percent of the residents of those 13 communities live below the poverty level, compared to 20 percent citywide.
The Victims (1991-2011)
-On average, men have been 86 percent of the murder victims, and women 14 percent. In 1991, men were 86 percent of victims, and in 2011 they were 90.1 percent, the highest for this 20-year-period.
-On average, Blacks have been 76 percent of the victims; Hispanics 17 percent; and Whites 7 percent. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of Black victims decreased by one percent, Whites decreased by 5 percent, and Hispanics increased by 5 percent
-Persons between the ages of 17-35 make up the majority of murder victims, with 63 percent in 1991, and 72 percent in 2011.
-In 1991, 69 percent of victims were shot, and 17 percent stabbed. In 2011, 83 percent were shot, and 7 percent stabbed.
The Offenders (1991-2011)
-Most of the known murder offenders are also between the ages of 17-35, they were 74 percent in 1991, and 79 percent in 2011.
-The percent of female murder offenders has been as low as 4 percent and as high as 12 percent during the period, but were 10 percent in both 1991 and 2011.
-On average, Blacks have been 76 percent of the known offenders; Hispanics 19 percent, and Whites 4 percent. The percentage of Black offenders decreased by 11 percent, Hispanics increased by 11 percent, and Whites decreased by 2 percent.
-Seventy percent of murder offenders in 1991, and 87 percent in 2011, had been arrested in the past.
Why The Victims Were Killed (1991-2011)
-Gang/clique street fights, other fights, gang drug involvement, domestic violence, and robbery have been the main motives in Chicago murders.
-In 2011, for the 312 murders where Chicago police knew why the victim was killed, 70 percent (or 219) were disagreements over domestic issues: liquor, love triangles, money, gambling, sex, street gangs, theft, traffic, and other issues. Street gang fights were 54 percent of those 219 disagreements.
*2012 statistics are not yet available from the Chicago Police Department
Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean is the Executive Director and Founder of Peaceful World Movement, an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Governors State University and University at Buffalo Department of Sociology, and the Coordinator of Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood at Haymarket Center, Chicago. He is also the author of Pockets of Crime: Broken Windows, Collective Efficacy and the Criminal Point of View.