In an encouraging trend, the number of murders and shootings in Chicago is down more than 10% this year, compared with the same time period in 2018, authorities report. But the statistics mean little to the families whose lives have been forever changed after losing a loved one to violence.
Homicides spiked three years ago in the city, topping 700 for the first time in decades. Since 2016, there’s been a year-over-year decline.
Through September of this year, there have been 1,633 shootings, according to statistics from the Chicago Police Department. In the same time period last year, there were 1,836 shootings recorded. At least 382 people have been murdered so far this year, while last year the number at the end of September stood at 429.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the data is promising, but people need to feel the change.
“The perception and the reality of safety are really, really important,” Lightfoot told CNN. “What they’re looking at is, do I feel safe to leave my home? Do I feel safe to send my child out during the daylight hours? Do I feel like I’ve got to get home before darkfall? Those are the things that people are using as their own barometers.”
Thursday, the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a rare field meeting on gun violence, convening in the Windy City’s Kennedy-King College to discuss “the public health impact of gun violence, the role of gun violence public health research, and prevention approaches,” according to the committee’s website.
The hearing brought together city officials, doctors, and those personally affected by the issue, many of whom agreed with California Rep. Anna Eshoo’s suggestion that the violence is a public health emergency.
Chicago Pastor Brenda Mitchell, who lost her brother and her son to gun violence, spoke during the meeting.
“We have children in Chicago who aren’t worried about growing up to be a doctor or lawyer, they’re worrying about growing up, period,” she said.
‘He was a gentle soul’
Despite the overall improvements in Chicago’s crime statistics, there are hundreds of families whose lives have been irretrievably changed by the violence.
Demetrius Flowers, 33, was among the seven killed and more than 50 wounded over a single weekend in August. The father of three was set to be married on August 23.
Pictures and memories are all Keith Flowers has left of his son.
The night his son was shot, Flowers rushed to the hospital, where he was told to wait. He feared the worst. Then, even after his son was pronounced dead, Flowers said he wasn’t able to see him until days later. It still haunts him.
“He was back there alone. There wasn’t nobody holding his hand. He couldn’t see his mama, he couldn’t see his father,” said Flowers, fighting back tears. “Nobody cared enough for a black young youth… to die alone like that like he was an enemy of the state.”
‘It doesn’t stop’
For hospital employees, it’s become a predictable cycle. During nighttime hours and on weekends, they can almost anticipate an influx of patients. Dr. Faran Bokhari is the director of Trauma and Burns Surgery at Stroger Hospital in Chicago.
Among his patients are people shot by handguns and those wounded by firearms that do even greater damage.
“You have very large injuries, parts of bodies are missing, and that’s the patient you’re left to resuscitate,” said Bokhari.
In some cases, it’s not only the nature of the wounds, but also the sheer number of patients that at times can overwhelm a hospital’s resources. On the same early morning that Demetrius Flowers was killed, Mount Sinai Hospital on Chicago’s west side had to temporarily stop accepting patients because they were at capacity following a series of shootings.
It was the same hospital Flowers was taken to just before the hospital went “on bypass.”
‘What we’re seeing are crimes that are precipitated by a lack of investment’
What remains to be seen is if the improved crime stats are the beginning of a long-term trend, or if they’re just a temporary dip.
Mayor Lightfoot is the first to admit there’s still more work to be done, and she says a long-term solution isn’t just going to come from police on the ground.
“Our law enforcement partners from federal, state, and local obviously have a role to play, but it’s got to be a much more holistic approach,” said Lightfoot. “What we’re seeing are crimes that are precipitated by a lack of investment, a lack of hope, a lack of connectivity to legitimate economy. You’re not going to solve those deep systemic problems by just putting more police on the street.”
In some cases, officials point to something as simple as having more data being a tremendous step in the right direction. Dr. Jay Shannon is the CEO of the Cook County Health System, which covers Chicago. He says more federal resources are needed to move toward a solution.
“We had a scare about Ebola a few years ago, tens of millions of dollars poured into research funding around that. Four Americans … contracted Ebola,” said Shannon. “We’ve got a condition here that’s killing almost 40,000 Americans each year and we don’t have a nickel of federally funded research to address it.”
Part of what he’s referring to is the so-called “Dickey Amendment,” passed in 1996, that restricted funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from being used to advocate or promote gun control. Critics of the amendment say it ultimately led to the CDC halting gun violence research.
On the policy side, Lightfoot said there is only so much she can do within her city.
“If you can drive across to Indiana and buy military-grade firearms and bring them back to Chicago without anyone knowing, without any background checks, that’s a problem. And the only way to solve that problem is for Congress to step up and do its job.”
As policy debates play out both in Chicago and Washington, wounded patients continue to come into the city’s hospitals day after day, night after night. “Oh, it doesn’t stop,” said Bokhari.