Chicago’s 500th homicide of the year happened over Labor Day weekend, according to the Chicago Tribune.
That number carries a lot of weight for the city – not just in quantity, but in meaning: 2016 is now the deadliest year in two decades.
In modern history, few things have caused such a sharp spike in US deaths as drug overdoses.
Epidemiologists in several states blame the increasing number of drug-related deaths on greater use of heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.
But Chicago is not the homicide capital of the United States.
New Orleans, St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore and Newark all have higher rates when you drill down the data per capita.
However, this doesn’t tell the entire story of Chicago’s bloodshed. There’s another statistic that points to a disturbing trend the city is facing: a surge.
WHAT 500 MEANS
In the early 2000s, the homicide rate in Chicago held steady, but it began an upward tick in 2014 and has been increasing ever since.
But 2016 is the deadliest year in two decades when it comes to homicide rates.
Chicago hit 500 homicides before the end of the summer. In 2015, the city had 480 homicides total.
The day-to-day breakdown of those figures is alarming. For example, there were 12 murders on Father’s Day weekend alone. The youngest victim was just 16.
THE GUN PROBLEM
A lot of the homicides in Chicago are gun-related. There are nearly 82 shootings per week. In just one weekend in August, there were eight gun-related homicides and 64 non-fatal shootings.
Chicago has strict gun laws, which is why many gun rights advocates point to it as evidence that tighter regulation doesn’t equal less crime. But Chicago’s gun violence problem is more complicated. Sixty percent of the guns used in shootings were purchased out of state.
“We border Indiana and Wisconsin, which have really lax gun laws,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said. “We know that people from Chicago go across the border, fill up gym bags with illegal weapons from gun shows and things of that nature and they come back here and sell them to the gangs.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed a new gun control law that imposes harsher penalties on those who bring in guns from out of state to sell and do not have gun-owner ID cards.
WHO’S TO BLAME?
There’s a deeply rooted distrust of Chicago’s police force.
The city’s police department has been under review for months in the wake of high-profile officer-involved shootings, including that of Laquan McDonald.
An independent task force has accused the police department of institutional racism, saying officers “have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
However, officer-involved shootings are only a tiny portion of Chicago’s homicide rate. From January 1 to September 8, there were six deaths tied to officer-involved shootings, according to the Independent Police Review Authority. Furthermore, there have been 13 instances this year in which a Chicago cop fired a weapon and hit an individual.
The other side of this battle is the street crime in Chicago, which has led to the killing of innocent bystanders and kept residents shut inside their homes out of fear.
Englewood resident Stephanie Armas, 43, said she taught her kids from a very young age what to do when they hear gunshots.
“If you live in a society where (your children) have to learn to duck and dodge bullets, you have to teach them how to duck and dodge bullets,” Armas said on September 1. “That’s all you can do.”
Johnson said police can only do so much. Social problems are the root cause of the violence, he said.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this situation,” he said. “That’s just not going to happen.”
We often point to Chicago’s alarming homicide numbers, but the real tragedy in this city are the victims and the families left behind.
They are the ones who face this violence every day, the ones who stand over gravestones, the ones who’ve lost hundreds of sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
Here are a few Chicagoans we’ve met during our reporting:
Tre Bosley lost his brother, Terrell, when he was mistakenly shot by a gang member while helping a friend take drums into a church.
South Side resident Jahmal Cole in March 2016.
Englewood resident Stephanie Armas on what she has to tell her grandchildren some days when the streets are too violent, September 2016.
She added: “All mothers – because we’re all in some type of war zone, somewhere – you have to teach (your children) to protect themselves.”
Chicago resident Darlene Perkins, referring to officer-involved shootings in November 2015.
Michael Gabb, whose grandson was killed near a park just blocks from his home, in March 2016.
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Additional reporting by CNN’s Rosa Flores, Mallory Simon and Bill Kirkos