March Mayhem: Mayor 'Never Waste a Crisis' Oversees Chicago Free-Fall

It had been an unusually cold month of March in Chicago, but with the first 50 degree day in weeks, about 500 African American teenagers heated up Chicago’s Gold Coast on Saturday night. By the time the mayhem ended, 28 had been arrested, two women had been beaten badly on a CTA train, and dozens of others had been hit, robbed, or threatened.

Several of those arrested told police that the attacks had been planned and coordinated on social networking sites, just as in prior years when packs of teenagers assaulted, robbed, and terrified hundreds of swimmers and sunbathers at the North Avenue Beach.

While Chicago media were careful to avoid bringing up race in the attacks this weekend or in prior years when similar assaults occurred, the video that was captured at the scene told the story.

The mobs fleeing from police did not fit the profile of poorly dressed, angry, underprivileged youths.  The videos seemed to show rioters enjoying themselves, much like the supposedly angry rioters after the Rodney King verdict, who were seen laughing and smiling as they carried off their appliances from looted stores.

An argument could be made that for the vandals in the street this weekend, a character deficit trumped the more common “disadvantaged” explanations for the behavior on display.

The mayhem dealt another blow to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s drive to make Chicago a “world-class city.” He had backtracked on his new policing strategy in February after a bloody January with over 40 murder victims, ordering the police to go back to the “flood the zone” approach -- first used on a large scale in New York City -- which shifts resources quickly to high-crime areas. The mayor had abandoned this strategy soon after he took office -- the murder count rose 20% in the year after his switch, while other large cities saw continued declines in their murder numbers.

In February, the murder count fell after the old strategy was restored, suggesting that the policing strategy the mayor abandoned might have cost lives in 2012.

The city’s status as the murder capital of America became national news in 2012  (Chicago had a murder rate four times that of New York, and more than twice that of Los Angeles for the year). The latest attacks on innocents walking the streets in the best neighborhoods of the city and on those riding the subway have further publicized Chicago’s crime problem – even internationally. Chicago is now linked with cities such as Johannesburg and Rio De Janeiro, which have grappled with extremely high murder tolls for years.

The great majority of Chicago’s murders occur in areas visitors to the city never see. Most murder victims are the same race as their murderer, and most of the murders occur in the South and West areas of the city.

Chicago’s shooting rate is even more astonishing than the number killed: in 2012, approximately one in every 1,000 Chicagoans was shot -- a rate 6 times higher than New York’s rate. In other words, New York has more accurate shooters than Chicago. If Chicago’s shooters killed with the accuracy of the shooters in New York, the murder toll would have approached 800 in 2012, not just over 500. This weekend was typical -- 23 Chicagoans shot, but only two (so far) dead from the shooting spree.