Chicago’s 2012 murder rate has been a constant fixture in the media this year, with reports of deadly shootings occurring nearly every day. Most of the shootings are related to interpersonal conflicts between rival gang members, and drugs often play a central role in these altercations. But despite strict gun control policies in the Windy City, it seems that drugs and gang-related conflict will continue to fuel Chicago’s murder rate, begging the idea that it’s not gun control Chicago needs: it’s drug control.
Chicago: A US Hometown War Zone
As of June, 2012, the number of homicides in Chicago since 2001 numbered more than 5,000. 2001 was the first year that American troops entered Afghanistan, and since the inception of operations there approximately 2,000 US troops have been killed. These numbers indicate that Chicago’s homicide rates are more than double the rates of troops killed in an established Middle-Eastern war zone. (Chicago Homicides Outnumber U.S. Troop Killings in Afghanistan Huffington Post 06/16/2012)
How could this be happening in a city with more than 12,000 police officers? The answer lies in Chicago’s long history of gang wars, going all the way back to the Prohibition and mobsters like Al Capone, Bugs Moran and Dion O’Banion.
Over the last 70 years gangs have remained a part of Chicago, and although gang members and styles have changed, primary sources of income have not, with drugs being the most important source of gang revenue. In the 80’s and 90’s Chicago’s gangs were mostly young black men ruling over a vast and well-connected empire buoyed largely on sales of crack-cocaine.
Fortunately, Chicago police were successful in cracking down on gang leaders and fracturing gangs into less powerful and seemingly disorganized groups. However, this strategy seems to be at least partly responsible for the current high rate of gang-related homicides considering that there are now more gang factions in the city than ever before. And because the manufacture and sale of illicit drugs is still the primary source of gang income, violence is often not far away. (Belkin, Douglas Chicago Hunts for Answers to Gang Killings The Wall Street Journal 07/12/2012)
Today’s Gangs are not what they Seem
However, many people believe that it’s not gang wars specifically that are directly causing the high rate of murders. Although the deaths often involve gang members, the shootings are generally not about “gang business” – at least not initially. In a story for Chicago Tonight titled: Are Chicago Murders all Gang Related? Natalie Moore uncovers a concept of gang-associated homicide that goes something like this:
- Gang member #1 feels slighted by rival gang member X over an interpersonal conflict
- Gang member #1 makes derogatory remarks about rival gang member X
- Gang member X retaliates by shooting rival gang member #1 and anyone standing nearby
- Soon after, gang members supporting gang member #1 make a retaliatory attack on the rival gang
- Retaliations alternate back and forth, sometimes culminating in multiple, separate but connected shootings throughout the course of a day
In the process, innocent bystanders are sometimes shot and killed, and police often erroneously cite their deaths as gang-related. (Moore, Natalie Are Chicago Murders all Gang Related? Chicago Tonight 09/25/2012)
What law enforcement efforts have made clear is that the binding glue of Chicago’s splintered gangs isn’t fraternity or respect, and it definitely isn’t a sense of security. It’s all about drugs. Using drugs together, selling drugs, manufacturing drugs, engaging in crimes to procure more drugs; this is the moral fabric that many gang members are cut from.
The reality is that most gang related killings aren’t worth the offense supposedly committed, indicating a populace that is hasty and paranoid. Add drugs to this picture and it’s easy to see how things get blown out of proportion in the Windy City.