In the Windy City, the holiday weekend traditionally ushers in a spike in shootings and homicides across a city already known for its brutality…
Despite the strict gun laws, community leaders and city officials are grappling with a rise in gun violence, leaving neighborhoods traumatized and city officials baffled how to control it.
The bloodshed is personal to pastors who minister among gangs, drug violence and turf warfare. Rev. Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church has received suggestions from desperate or grief-stricken parishioners for the National Guard to take over and patrol Chicago’s streets
“Unless something radical takes place, it’s going to be a blood bath this summer,” said Mr. Acree. He said he was bracing himself for the coming months.
“If something doesn’t change, if we don’t get jobs for these kids, if we don’t change the economic situation, I’m worried that we could be looking at a blood bath,” said the Rev. Corey Brooks, a pastor on the city’s South Side, a mostly African-American area where some of the shootings have been concentrated. “If something doesn’t happen, I fear that we’re potentially looking at one of the worst summers we’ve ever had.”
Violence has surged in Chicago in 2016. In the first three months, statistics showed 131 people had been killed, an 84 percent rise over the same period last year. Five months into the year, at least 233 people have been killed.
Chicago is the nation’s third-largest city, but its homicide rate is greater than New York or Los Angeles. During 2015’s Memorial Day weekend, 46 people were shot and 14 killed.
The violence is compounded a crisis in law enforcement. Police departments are mired in problems involving officer conduct and discipline. Distrust of the police runs high, especially in the African-American community which makes up about one-third of Chicago’s population.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces the challenges of addressing low morale among officers, tamping down a flood of crime, and repairing frayed relations among citizens.
“I’m really tired of it, and tired of worrying,” said Gloria Johnson, 37, in March. “But it seems like this year is just the worst of the worst.”
Ms. Johnson serves food in Austin, a particularly violent neighborhood. She bears a long scar on her elbow from a gunshot wound from 10 years before.
The police say much of the violence in this city of about 2.7 million people is tied to gangs, which have become disorganized and have splintered into more factions,” reports the New York Times. “While shootings along Lake Shore Drive and near a W Hotel not far from Chicago’s Gold Coast have drawn notice, most of those dying are young men on the South and West Sides, the police say. Back-and-forth acts of violence between groups, often using guns, are common. And the authorities say threats are increasingly delivered through social media (a notion some officers here have begun referring to as ‘cyberbanging’), perhaps speeding up the pace of retaliation.”
Facing Memorial Day weekend, Chicago police have increased the number of officers on the streets.
They plan to have extra foot patrols in parks and neighborhoods, and more officers on bicycles. Police also use social media to track such things as potentially troublesome house parties.
Mistrust of police makes it harder for street crimes to be solved since witnesses and victims often prefer not to share information.
“People think that to get justice, they have to take the law into their own hands,” said the Rev. Marshall E. Hatch, the pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, on the West Side.
Because of the potential for violence, the Rev. Michael Pfleger – whose parish is on the South Side – said residents seemed to be “hunkering down” because they expected bad things to happen.
“It’s almost like everyone’s saying a hurricane is coming,” he said. “What we really need to be doing is getting out, walking around. Don’t board up your house. Be out on your block. Be vigilant. Fear either paralyzes you or it motivates you. We could have this be the safest weekend of the summer if everyone was out talking to one another.”
Ministering in places even the police won’t go, pastors do their best to draw people away from violent lifestyles. Pastor Brooks’s church sits in the middle of the territory of four different street gangs and offers hope to those steeped in hopeless despair.
“I’ve always wanted to minister to the people Jesus would, the outcasts, the rejects, the dispossessed,” he said. “Everybody is welcome. Everybody has a soul.”