The summer of 2021 ended on a violent note in Chicago this Labour Day weekend, with close to 60 people shot between Friday afternoon and Monday morning.
The weekend’s total of 58 shooting victims was the most since 2016, and seven more than Labor Day weekend 2020, suggesting the troubling double-digit spikes in violence Chicago experienced last year have continued to be a formidable challenge for the city.
Many of the neighbourhoods where the shootings happened have for decades been under-resourced and lacking in jobs and opportunities, conditions that allowed violence to take a deep hold, even before the pandemic adversely affected the very same communities with job losses and stress.
The weekend’s shootings were devastating: a four-year-old boy visiting Chicago killed as he had his hair braided inside a Woodlawn apartment, a 14-year-old boy injured after being shot on the street in Little Village, and a CTA bus driver beaten and wounded by a gunshot in the downtown Loop area.
Last year, Chicago saw a 50 per cent increase in both shootings and homicides.
Other large cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have also experienced worrisome spikes in gun violence since 2020.
In August, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on all city departments to collaborate on reducing gun violence and take a “whole of government approach” to finding solutions to the persistent problem.
On Monday morning, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown held a news briefing with top commanders to outline the efforts by police over the weekend, including partnerships with community organisations and the continued seizure of handguns, weapons that drive most of the city’s violence.
Mr Brown spoke candidly and personally about the risks youth in Chicago face when they are in the vicinity of those who are swept into or engaging in violent conflicts, which are retaliatory in nature.
“I have family members that I don’t invite over for family gatherings, just because of some of the issues that come with that family member that is living a life of crime. I don’t want to bring it to my home,” he said before directly addressing families, adding that he was not trying to “condescend” to anyone.
“I would encourage you, as a family, to protect your children from people in the family that are on the wrong side of the law,” he said.
Mr Brown also spoke directly to those who are engaged in the conflicts.
“You know the life you lead. You know that you are being targeted. … Why are you continuing to be around young children? That’s on you. … Stay away from children if you want to live that life,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Brown pledged his department would be “relentless” in pursuing offenders.
Deputy Chief Angel Novalez, charged with improving relations in a city where trust in police has frayed, and criticism of the department is constant, sounded a hopeful note in his remarks.
“I wanted to make sure I give out a special thanks to the hundreds and thousands of people in Chicago that in a lawful manner enjoyed all the city had to offer this Labor Day weekend,” Mr Novalez said.
“The thousands of folks who biked the (Lake Shore) Drive, enjoyed concerts at Soldier Field, patronized local entertainment businesses, enjoyed the weather at the wonderful parks and those that stayed home and enjoyed their backyards and their neighbourhoods.”
“We at the Chicago Police Department thank you for doing your part in maintaining order so we can use the resources to concentrate on crime reduction,” added Mr Novalez.