Violence reverberates downtown as downtown mirrors unrest in its neighborhoods

Over a 48-hour period last weekend, three shootings erupted within a mile of each other in downtown Chicago, killing two. During the same period, some 17 other people were shot in the city, most in neighborhoods where a higher level of violence is more common.

Yet it was the downtown shootings, one outside a major theater that canceled its evening performance, that caught the attention of the media and city leaders, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot , who had to address the violence Monday at an independent press conference and is sure to face more scrutiny as the mayoral race heats up.

Police chiefs also had to answer for the wave of violence, quickly announcing that they would deploy more resources downtown.

Experts have said that the overemphasis on downtown occurs for a variety of reasons.

It is the economic engine of the city, generating millions of dollars in tax revenue and tourist dollars. And the added violence downtown is straining the resources of a police department struggling to cope with decades of steadily higher rates of violence in Chicago neighborhoods.

Downtown is also the civic heart of the city, a place where Chicagoans from Rogers Park to Roseland gather for concerts, to hit the beach, stretch out on a lawn for a picnic, contemplate the mirrored “Bean” or splash in the fountain at Millennium Park.

“Chicagoans own the Loop,” said Bill Savage, who taught Chicago literature and culture for 30 years at Northwestern University. “If the center of our city experiences this kind of violence, it hits everyone in some way. If it’s happening in the Loop, it’s about you.

Statistics show a drop in violence

So far this year, gun violence — both homicides and non-fatal shootings — is down, welcome news in a city battered by a 60% increase in shootings over a two-year period in 2020 and 2021.

But recent headlines about downtown issues have served as a reminder of just how entrenched the problem of gun violence is here, and how it affects all parts of the city, including Chicago’s gleaming downtown.

The number of downtown shootings has actually increased in recent years, and as of last week 19 people were shot in the Near North and Loop communities, up from eight last year.

Citywide violence has already led to mayoral candidates promising to remove Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown if elected, with Lightfoot’s opponents citing a lack of strategy to fight back. violence.

Brown was hired amid a historic pandemic that shut down programs and services across the city. It was also a time when trust in the police was collapsing across America following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Criminologists will study the lasting impacts of these events, but some said there was a feeling that the stress of a pandemic combined with increased police surveillance could have played a role in the rise in gun violence.

Still, Brown and the Chicago Police Department have faced repeated criticism from aldermen, a level of concern that is only amplified when gunshots ring out downtown.

And it’s not just the shootings that are worrying some leaders and the business community. There have long been concerns about clashes and unrest among large groups of young people who gather downtown at weekends.

Chicago police did not provide specific details of the response downtown. The mayor’s office referred the Tribune to Lightfoot’s Monday press conference, where she said Downtown would get more resources and deflected questions about her potential re-election campaign.

Lightfoot spoke of the difficult task of dealing with years of unresolved violence in some Chicago neighborhoods.

“They lived with the lack of investment. They have lived too long with the lack of focus and attention to violence,” Lightfoot said.

She also returned to a familiar theme: the need for those who engage in violence to face serious consequences.

Meanwhile, in Streeterville, residents were nervous following the downtown incidents, said Deborah Gershbein, president of the Streeterville Active Residents Organization.

Gershbein said the level of gun violence across the city is unacceptable and while she understands that long-term approaches are needed, her neighbors are afraid to walk at night.

“I have lived in this neighborhood for 32 years. It was never like this. I used to walk everywhere,” Gershbein said. “How do you give people a sense of security? »

Experts and community organizers told the Tribune that shared fears about a central gathering space like the Loop suffering from gun violence also presented an opportunity for shared solutions.

Chicago criminologist David Stovall said there is an “alienation” in communities that have been systematically cut off from resources and opportunities that plays a role in rising gun violence. Everyone involved should support thoughtful solutions.

“Lincoln Park has never had this problem en masse. Or Streeterville,” said Stovall, a professor of black studies as well as criminology, law and justice at UIC. violence because it is real.The (solutions) unfortunately, or fortunately, are not short term…. You cannot criminalize your way out of it.

Savage of Northwestern also said there was an opportunity for further momentum.

“The key is that if we perceive the Loop as the heart of our city, we’re still connected to whatever other part we live in,” Savage said. “But to connect to the parts we don’t live in? It’s the imaginary leap that’s so difficult. Can Jefferson Park people who work downtown imagine what it would be like to live in Garfield Park or Ashburn or Pullman?

A rough weekend

Last weekend’s downtown shooting began at 1 a.m. Saturday in the 300 block of North State Street.

Two women from the North Lawndale neighborhood were shot dead by a man during an argument in the street. One of the women, aged 26, later died.

A day later, on Sunday morning, an argument inside the Sonesta Hotel on East Walton Place left an 18-year-old man dead from multiple gunshot wounds. And about 10 hours later, in the 100 block of North Wabash, two men were shot dead in an alley behind the Nederlander Theater after a nearby dispute escalated involving theft and drug dealing.

Filming in broad daylight resulted in the theater’s operations being halted that night, including the cancellation of a performance of “Moulin Rouge”.

So far, no charges have been filed in any of the cases.

One of the two injured in Sunday’s shooting was a 27-year-old man, who was walking home from the gym with his wife, he told a Tribune reporter in a phone interview.

He heard a pop and then felt pain in his hand, said the man, who asked not to be identified.

People dispersed and the couple got behind a car and heard a second shot, he said.

“I put two and two together pretty quickly – the pop plus the pain plus the bleeding,” he said. “…It’s a strange series of emotions to put together. It’s not something I’ve ever experienced before, so it was kind of like registering the fact that this is actually what happened.

Although the shooting happened about a 20-minute walk from his home, he said he wasn’t afraid to be downtown, noting what statistics confirm: his community remains relatively safe. He only plans to avoid Wabash in the future.

“It’s one of those things where if you’re in a big city there’s a statistical chance of it happening,” he said. “It was something that I think was always in my head as a possibility. … But again, that statistical chance of it happening is a relatively rare event. I think downtown is still a neighborhood very safe.I always feel safe walking around.

Different in the neighborhoods

Despite the attention downtown incidents receive, neighborhood gun violence is an everyday experience from which residents of some areas find it harder to escape.

Through May 3, the rate of gunshot victims per 10,000 residents in the Loop and Near North communities was 1.8 and 1.3, according to the city’s data portal. In the city’s historically less safe neighborhoods, the rate hits 21 at West Garfield Park, for example, and 11.2 at Greater Grand Crossing.

Chondra Wright works in the Greater Grand Crossing area with youth exposed to violence and regularly meets with police in her local district to try to prevent the kind of violence now being felt in other parts of the city.

She also goes downtown to walk regularly, following a path from Rush Street to the Cloud Gate sculpture. So the shootings in the heart of Chicago also shook her.

Wright agrees that the violence taking place there reflects what happened in the neighborhoods. And she said that’s why solutions need to go beyond a weekend rollout strategy. This is a citywide effort and vision, she said.

“I’m a Chicagoan through and through,” Wright said. “Downtown is an escape. It is this space to which people migrate for this peace, this freedom, this pleasure. What would Chicago be like if we could have the same spirit or energy in any part of Chicago? »

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