The Myth About Chicago's Murder Rate

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn takes on the claims that Chicago's murder rate is the highest in the country and that it's murder rate has reached a crisis point in his new column, Wrongly Accused.

"Since Trayvon Martin was killed, 500 people have been killed in Chicago alone," said talk-show host Larry Elder during a guest appearance on CNN on Tuesday evening. The previous night on the same network, in a video montage related to the umpty-whillionth panel discussion prompted by Zimmerman's acquittal, an unidentified woman said, "Nobody's talking about what happened in Chicago last week; 62 people were killed."

Nobody was talking about it because it didn't happen. No one on the show bothered to correct the assertion — the actual number of murders in Chicago in that week was 10, police said...


Zorn crunches the numbers and reports:

....In the first six months of 2013, Chicago police reported 184 murders, 26 percent fewer than last year in that time frame and the lowest raw number since 1965.

....Chicago was far from the deadliest city in America. The murder rate here 18.5 per 100,000 residents, according to preliminary FBI data was 21st in the nation, better than in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans and Detroit, to name a few.

Why am I not surprised the statistics show otherwise? It reminds me of the mythical articles a few years ago about immigrant crime waves. These claims are all about advancing a particular agenda, the facts be d*mned.

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    "Highest in the nation" (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by Prime on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 01:20:59 AM EST
    Chicago had a sharp uptick last year, but like everywhere else their rate is much lower than it was twenty years ago.  The numbers were astonishing in the early 90s, and even their numbers were dwarfed by DCs.

    I haven't heard anyone say that Chicago is highest in the nation, but if they said that they didn't do their research.  I think Chicago gets picked on for two reasons- Obama's relationship to the city, and the strict gun control.  There was a ban on handguns there for over thirty years, and the recent increase in violent crime speaks to the ineffectiveness of gun control when there are so many higher yield interventions like actually giving violent criminals a lengthy sentence rather than parole.  Parole is for possession, not for violent crime.

    Anyway, the whole point should be not to pick on Chicago, but to highlight the hypocrisy of making a big deal out of Trayvon Martin when the entire country year after year has sat very idly by while THOUSANDS of young black kids in cities all over the country killed each other off with anything they could get their hands on.  

    That's what the point SHOULD be anyway.

    exactly (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by TeresaInPa on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 02:53:06 PM EST
    what always gets to me is when you start talking about Trayvon Martin or some similar case and then there is a mention of how many young black men die of gun shot wounds and isn't it terrible. It comes up in connection with a discussion of the Zimmerman Martin case.  To me that makes no sense.  That is when I say, "hold on a minute, let's talk about where these statistics are coming from.  The murder rate is terrible.  Let's really do something about it.  But don't pretend it's about more gun control laws or Stand Your Ground or racism among white people.  THESE statistics are about communities in crisis and no one wanting to talk about it.

    So Chicago is not the worst.  That's good for Chicago.  What city is the worst? Is it Atlanta, Philly, Cleveland?  I think in all of those places minority children are never safe outside.


    IMO of course... (none / 0) (#17)
    by DebFrmHell on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 08:01:43 PM EST
    Chicago represents all that is wrong throughout all major cities in the US.  Minorities are dying primarily by the hand of other minorities.

    It isn't about gun control issues.  IIRC, Chicago has some stringent gun laws there.


    Control of the drug trade (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 09:52:21 PM EST

    Legalize pot and cocaine and the murder rate drops overnight.  During Prohibition gangs used to kill each other over whose beer or whiskey was being sold. Today it's the same story only the substance is different.



    Absolutelely!!! (none / 0) (#31)
    by Visteo1 on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 01:58:07 PM EST
    Tax it, regulate it, keep it from minors.  Sell only through licensed pharmacies...etc.  Inlude all drugs, but you get put on a list that employers can see.

    In H.S. I could get ANY drug.  Alcohol was a bit tougher.  It had to be stolen from parents or someone of age had to make the purchase.

    I avoid drug houses in Detroit.  One estimate says I reduce my chance of being murdered by 65%.  I put it at closer to 90%.


    So.. (none / 0) (#26)
    by jondee on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 12:33:42 PM EST
    it can't be BOTH?

    "Communities in crisis": part of which has to do with the easy availability of guns and a subculture of violence reinforced by the all-American iconograpgy of the gun and a mythos of immediate violent, "SYG" retaliation?


    iconography.. (none / 0) (#27)
    by jondee on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 12:34:21 PM EST
    It's not both (none / 0) (#33)
    by TeresaInPa on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 06:42:16 PM EST
    Chicago gets attention (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by txantimedia on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 09:37:12 AM EST
    because of the high raw numbers.  But it's the third largest city in the country, so the homicide rate isn't even in the top ten.  The worst is Flint, MI, which is more than 3 times as deadly as Chicago, but a much smaller city with "only" 66 murders.

    According to the CDC, homicide is the leading cause of death nationally among black males from 15-34.

    I knew Memphis would make the (none / 0) (#9)
    by Teresa on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 10:26:57 AM EST
    list, but Baton Rouge, LA shocks me. That's a college town.

    Baton Rouge has been gaining notoriety as one of the most dangerous cities in the country.

    And 90% of the murdered/murderers in Memphis knew each other. That's got to be unusual, I'd think.


    According to (none / 0) (#10)
    by txantimedia on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 11:19:09 AM EST
    FBI data, 56% of homicides nationwide were committed by strangers or the relationship between victim and perpetrator was unknown/not reported.

    So 90% would seem unusually high.  If you cull out the unknown relationships, 21% were committed by strangers which is still significantly higher than the Baton Rouge numbers.


    I meant Memphis (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by txantimedia on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 11:19:46 AM EST
    dern it.

    Oakland #3 city for murder nationally 2013 (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by lily on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 12:58:14 AM EST
    Outrage and frustration

    recent random homicides include 8 year old child and 66 year old dog walker has city leaders asking residents to call in all suspicious activity before it gets violent.

    They passed 200 homicides (none / 0) (#2)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 07:56:28 AM EST
    Starting in March 2012 (none / 0) (#3)
    by DebFrmHell on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 08:12:29 AM EST
    and adding Zorn's number for this year through June, I came up with approx. 630.    Other than the outrage for that young girl, Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at the Inauguration I can't think of any others that made national news.

    I also was thinking of the Obama drama (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by Towanda on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 11:21:36 AM EST
    about that girl's murder, about how the Obamas' use of that tragedy added to the hype about the Chicago murder rate -- and about how the Obamas could have done it differently by calling attention to the death but also to the correct data to help their city focus its resources from reality, not fear.

    I appreciate Zorn's reality-based reporting, as I read Chicago media almost daily and am well aware of reporting of murders, but I also often visit Chicago -- and many parts of the city, including the South Side, with family there, as well as family near the Loop and all across the metropolis -- and do not see a supposed "murder city."


    Agreed, (none / 0) (#5)
    by drc2013 on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 08:57:08 AM EST
    Larry Elder's claim of 500 appears confirmed by the stats available on the City of Chicago's website, and his larger point as well.  Not sure why Zorn would conflate that statement with the exaggeration that follows, seems unfair to Elder. Elder 1, Zorn 0.

    And the followup stating that the actual # of murders that week was only 10 seems to be Zorn winning a battle (the woman lied) at the expense of losing the war (people who say Chicago's murder rate is really bad are correct).


    I don't suppose it's possible that (none / 0) (#4)
    by Anne on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 08:17:26 AM EST
    this has anything to do with Obama's Chicago connections, is it?

    I think it stems from (none / 0) (#6)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 09:11:19 AM EST
    the case-that-shall-not-be-named and how it has been made into a racial story, especially by the media and even the president commenting (twice), when many of these same people are not looking at what is going on in Chicago (or any big city for that matter). Chicago has been getting a little more attention, because while the numbers now might be behind last year's pace, the city started the year out with a bang (if you'll pardon the pun) .

    A vast majority of those victims are black males, but so are the vast majority of suspects, and that doesn't seem to garner the attention of the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons quite as much. And since Obama is from there, and his former chief of staff is the mayor, it seems pretty natural to ask why isn't there more attention paid to this?


    Is there a sense in Chicago that (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by ruffian on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 11:55:58 AM EST
    the suspected perpetrators, once caught, will not be arrested and charged? That was what first caught the attention of the media, locally anyway, to the case that shall not be named.

    I don't know (none / 0) (#15)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 12:52:51 PM EST
    I think the reason some people can't take Al Sharpton or the national media seriously is for all the attention focused on the one homicide in Florida (while very tragic), they are ignoring the multiple murders in places like Chicago because it's not as controversial. Stories about "black on black" crime doesn't get people as riled up as "White on Black" crime, or("White Hispanic on Black crime")does.

    I also think the fact that Obama has made two public comments about TCTSNBN (the-case-that-shall-not-be-named) when he has not seen fit to comment on what's going on in his home city of Chicago (maybe because Rahm Emanuel is the mayor) - especially at the beginning of the year when Chicago was set to have the highest murder rate since 1997 - around 730, by some estimates (and of course, that still could happen).

    Chicago is no different than any other big city - and when you add a poor economy, city schools that can't do all that is asked of them (because everyone and their mother hs an opinion about how schools should be run, but very few of them have actually been teachers, and there is no money to help them out), etc. - is it any wonder why people's tempers are on edge and why to many folks, crime actually does pay, at least for awhile?  THAT'S what Obama and Al Sharpton and Benjamin Crump et al should be using their bully pulpit for, and THAT'S what the media should be hounding them about.


    I could go back to writing about the case on a (5.00 / 2) (#21)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 04:08:30 AM EST
    daily basis if you really miss it.

    LOL. NOOOOOOOOO!!!!! (5.00 / 3) (#28)
    by ruffian on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 01:00:58 PM EST
    LOL. NOOOOOOOOO!!!!! (5.00 / 2) (#29)
    by MO Blue on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 01:13:45 PM EST
    Since ruffian said it so well, I will just repeat it.

    I'll even add (5.00 / 2) (#30)
    by Angel on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 01:58:01 PM EST

    <dare I say . . . (5.00 / 2) (#32)
    by Towanda on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 06:10:38 PM EST
    I do miss learning so much as I did from those posts of yours? Printed out and put between covers, that was a law school textbook that you penned>

    wow (none / 0) (#7)
    by McBad on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 09:29:12 AM EST
    the racial disparity of the murder victims is startling.   curious if the distribution has changed from 20 yrs ago when rate was higher.

    I believe chicago had the most total murders of 2012 of any city.  that stat likely has as much to do with the attention as anything.

    Did they see this coming in 1984? (none / 0) (#14)
    by Visteo1 on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 12:37:13 PM EST
    In 1984 I was a Correctional Officer Trainee in the Illinos Department of Corrections.  We visited Joliet, Pontiac and Stateville Prisons.  I noticed lots of empty beds.

    After training was complete, I started work at Centralia Correctional Center with the headlines reading "Inmate Overpopulation - Overflow Fills Centralia's Prison Gym".

    Yep, it was true.  The gym was filled to capacity.  It sure made a nice picture to accompany the stories.  

    DOC got their new facilities and the requirement for floor space was changed to allow 2 inmates to occupy one cell at Centralia.  

    I can't fault anyone for what was done.  There was a crisis looming and the DOC did what they thought had to be done to swing public opinion.

    I think the truth was reported back then...at least the truth that was known.  It was sensational.  The whole truth was boring numbers that the public would not pay a bit of attention to.  The image of a swarm of criminals breaking out of Centralia...didn't even need to be made in the media.  

    Fear is a powerful tool.  Anguish over death is a powerful tool.  Images are powerful tools.  Our media owes us the truth.  They owe us a sincere effort to try and uncover the facts.  

    Mesmerizing stories is what WE have demanded.  It is how we choose what to watch.  Truth and facts are just tools to sensationalize.

    Jeralyn, I really want to sue for mental anguish.  Guess that aint happenin.

    How do WE change this?  Honest question.  

    Jeralyn, do you have an answer or comment?    

    I really have no idea. (none / 0) (#20)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 03:58:08 AM EST
    Are you asking about how to better improve conditions for inmates or guards? Are you still a guard? Interesting topic though, I might take a look after I'm clearer on what you are wanting to know.

    My question is about... (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by Visteo1 on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 11:30:37 AM EST
    "These claims are all about advancing a particular agenda, the facts be d*mned."

    How do we change the direction the media has taken?  Laws that hinder free speech?  A public movement?  Law suits for more egregious acts?  I'm looking for you view in this area and do you favor a particular source for news?    

    I can no longer watch ANY evening news without noting subtle leans, whether intentional or not.  If the news only has a 30 second spot they need to balance the facts reported.  Instead they seem to favor sensationlism over balance. I stopped watching Fox News a decade ago, because of blatant acts they were committing.

    I have a BSME degree from Illinois - 1990, and  worked in the automotive field after that point.


    Unfortunately we don't get the media (none / 0) (#22)
    by TeresaInPa on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 06:24:22 AM EST
    we deserve.  We get the media the general public deserves.  I can't even watch Rachel Maddow because of the dramatic delivery of her partisan point of view. I like her, I agree with her and I think she is informative.  But I already know what she is going to say and that she is going to give the liberal POV on every issue.  For instance, I am sure I could not have watched a minute of her coverage of the case which shall not be named.

    So yeah, what is to be done?  IMO, the evening news is still your best bet for none BS news coverage.


    Where is the Zorn column? (none / 0) (#23)
    by nomatter0nevermind on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 09:40:32 AM EST
    Is there some trick to finding an article from a page like that? I tried searching the page for the title and the author, as I have many times before in such cases. It never works.

    Google Web Cache (none / 0) (#24)
    by squeaky on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 09:52:35 AM EST