CLAIM: “Chicago is the murder capital of the country, despite having some of the toughest gun laws and also being a Democratic-run city, so therefore, Chicago is evidence that strict gun laws and Democratic policies lead to more murder, not less murder.”
REALITY: Chicago’s population, poverty rate, and segregated neighborhoods (yes, segregation…in 2018) have a lot more to do with the high murder totals in Chicago than gun control or Democratic policies.
Yes, Chicago led all cities with 650 homicides in 2017, but they are also the third most populated city in the country. The city’s homicide rate (23.8 per 100,000 people) is actually similar to Kansas City, MO (23.0) and Washington, DC (24.1), but since both of those cities have smaller populations, their actual murder totals aren’t as high. So, when we’re talking about “most dangerous” cities that have the highest murder rates (i.e., places where you are most likely to be killed via homicide), Chicago actually lands at number 8. St. Louis tops that list with a 59.8 homicide rate, followed by Baltimore (57.8), and Detroit (43.4). In other words, you are more than twice as likely to be killed via homicide in St. Louis or Baltimore than you are in Chicago.
One thing you may notice about the list of cities with the highest homicide rates is that they all have high poverty rates. In 2016, 12.7% of the US population lived at or below the poverty line, but that rate was much higher in cities with the highest homicide rates. St. Louis (23.8%), Baltimore (21.9%), Detroit (35.7%), New Orleans (23.7%), Newark, NJ (28.2%), Milwaukee (26.7%), Washington, DC (18.6%), and Chicago (19.1%) all have poverty rates well above the national average. Meanwhile, cities with the lowest homicide rates tend to have lower poverty rates. Six of the bottom eight cities in homicide rates also had poverty rates below the national average, with the remaining two hovering just above average. Chandler, AZ (7.09%), Lincoln, NE (13.7%), Irvine, CA (12.7%), Plano, TX (6.72%), Henderson, NV (8.47%), Honolulu, HI (8.49%), Arlington, TX (15.9%), and Chula Vista, CA (10.5%) all have relatively low poverty rates and low homicide rates of 2.3 (per 100,000 people) or fewer.
Of course, high poverty rate alone doesn’t completely explain why Chicago’s homicide rate of 23.8 outpaces cities like Los Angeles (7.1) and New York (3.4), even though the three cities share very similar poverty rates (Chicago with 19.1%, Los Angeles 19.5%, and New York 18.9%). One major difference between Chicago and a similar city like New York is the amount of segregation that exists in Chicago.
When we think about segregation, we think about life before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made segregation illegal. When in reality, much of America is still segregated, and possibly getting even worse.
“In Chicago, homicide rates correspond with segregation,” Ford Fessenden wrote in a 2016 NY Times article addressing the unique factors that have likely created the environment in Chicago. “While many areas have few or no killings, the South and West Sides are on par with the world’s most dangerous countries, like Brazil and Venezuela, and have been for many years.”
“Racially segregated minority neighborhoods have a long history of multiple adversities, such as poverty, joblessness, environmental toxins and inadequate housing, said Robert J. Sampson, a professor at Harvard and the author of ‘Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.'”
“The major underlying causes of crime are similar across cities, but the intensity of the connection between social ills and violence seems to be more persistent in Chicago,” Professor Sampson said. “You don’t get that kind of extensive social and economic segregation in many other cities.”
Essentially, Chicago is what happens when you deny economic, healthcare, education, fair criminal justice, and housing opportunities to a specific segment of the population and you keep that group segregated for generations. The same situation exists in many other cities in the country that actually have higher homicide rates, but they don’t get the attention of Chicago because of their smaller populations.
Conservatives will also try to argue that it’s Chicago’s tight gun laws that contribute to the violence. However, national data suggests that states with tighter gun laws actually tend to have lower rates of gun deaths. Louisiana and Alaska, for example, led the country in the number of gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2014. These states also have weaker gun laws (darker colors) than states such as California and New York (lighter colors).
Another conservative explanation is that there is something unique in the “culture” of the black population of Chicago that has led them to commit this violence. This is to say that there is either something genetically within blacks that makes them this way, or that there is some unknown outside factor that has caused this “culture” of violence. Suggesting that there is a genetic component is to suggest that blacks are genetically inferior and more prone to violence than other races, and is as deeply white nationalistic and completely devoid of any scientific validity as one could get. If you don’t subscribe to the white nationalist way of thinking, then that means there has to be some outside factor contributing to this “culture”. Well, some would suggest that 300 years of slavery, followed by 100 years of Jim Crow, segregation and second class citizenship, followed by decades of mass incarceration, continued segregation and discrimination would be as sufficient an outside factor as you would need to explain the situation in Chicago.
Others would suggest that none of that has anything to do with it, and that it was Democrats that created a “culture of dependency” through programs like welfare and other entitlements that led to this situation. The only major flaw with that is that blacks were almost exclusively exempt from welfare benefits when it was first instituted in 1935, while whites were the primary beneficiaries. If welfare contributed toward black decline, then why did whites not experience a similar decline starting in the 1930s? The notion of welfare contributing to the “culture” also assumes that blacks and whites were on equal footing prior to the implementation of welfare, which would show a divergence between the races after each group received assistance. Of course, we know this wasn’t the case since in 1935, blacks were legal second class citizens without the right to vote, attend adequate schools, receive adequate health care, equal employment opportunities, receive equal treatment under the criminal justice system, buy homes where they wanted, and the list goes on. Fast forward 83 years, and black people still do not share the same access as whites to each of the aforementioned things.
“Chicago” is yet another conservative talking point that ignores basic facts about this nation’s history and how we arrived at the city’s high murder rate, and the black people at the heart of it. Whereas poverty and segregation from generations of legal discrimination have played large roles in creating this situation, conservatives would like you to believe that some other unknown factor is at play. A factor that continues to suggest that it is more likely that there is something inherently wrong with black people than that centuries of denying blacks any and all opportunity would create a desperate situation like Chicago.