A surge in shootings over back-to-back weekends in Chicago has brought fears of a violent summer to the city.
Five people were killed and at least 55 more were injured in shootings over the weekend. The violence followed a Memorial Day weekend in which three people were killed and 34 others were wounded.
“Violence in Chicago, as you all know, continues to be a challenge, especially this time of year,” Norman Kerr, director of the city’s Office of Violence Reduction, said Monday at a news conference to address the shootings.
Homicides are up by 5 percent and shootings are up by 17 percent this year compared to the same period last year, Police Superintendent David Brown said at the news conference. Homicides tend to peak in the summer in Chicago and elsewhere.
Before the most recent spate of shootings, violent crime had been falling in Chicago this year, according to the police department. May was the second straight month the number of homicides in the city declined compared to the same month last year, police said. There was also less violent crime over Memorial Day weekend compared to last year.
“Obviously, the challenge is, from a macro perspective, continuing that trend during the summer. Normally, violent crime trends is a bell curve. You start out low, peak in the summer, then it trails off as the weather gets cooler. Our challenge is we need a trail-off in the summer,” he said.
Police said much of the crime stems from gang activity and retaliation.
“Street justice will never yield peace,” Brown said. “Revenge, retaliation will never be enough to satisfy you. It can only destroy more lives. This idea of an eye for an eye leaves us both blind.”
The effective programs and strategies that protect neighborhoods from violence include a lot of face-to-face interaction with police, which isn’t happening because of the pandemic, said John Hollywood, a policing researcher at the Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank.
In addition, many social stresses associated with the coronavirus, such as fear of illness or death, isolation and economics, are colliding with communities that have issues of trust with law enforcement, leading to more crime, he said.
Kerr said the city wants to build on the three-year violence reduction plan Mayor Lori Lightfoot created in September.
The Our City, Our Safety plan outlines initiatives like building on police reforms, creating a 211 help line, expanding and strengthening street outreach and creating a victim support network.
“We developed the summer safety strategy to reduce violence in Chicago by using data to focus on the 15 most dangerous neighborhoods in the past three summers,” Kerr said.
Officials also plan to find job opportunities for residents in those zones and crack down on problem businesses that host late-night parties that contribute to the rise in violence.
“We plan to make an impact by … moving forward with a strong, all-city response to address community safety in each designated area and engaging with community partners to co-create approaches to address violence,” Kerr said.
Police officials said 5,011 guns have been recovered this year.
“Every gun recovered is a potential deadly force encounter. It is potential for reducing violence. If we can recover the gun, the gun can now not be used in a violent incident,” Brown said.
He then called on the faith community to pray for a spirit of forgiveness in the gang culture.
Deon J. Hampton is a national reporter for NBC News, based in Cincinnati.