Statistically, I live in an extremely dangerous city. Yet I spend exactly none of my time worrying about being a victim of crime. Part of that is my attitude; generally I believe that if a lightning bolt is going to hit you there isn't much you can do about it. Sure, you wouldn't want to increase your chances of being struck by running around an open field waving a lightning rod during a thunderstorm. But there's only so much you can do. Either they've got your name on them or they don't.

Aside from taking reasonable precautions, the other reason never to worry about it is that crime in the city is heavily ghettoized. This calendar year promises to break all previous records for shootings and gun-related murders in Chicago, but it doesn't take complex geospatial analysis to see the patterns when they're mapped out.

shootings april1

This quote is telling: "Police said the disturbing rise in violence is driven by gangs and mostly contained to a handful of pockets on the city's South and West sides."

Oh, OK then. As long as the people shooting each other are all in the same place.

That quote is accurate but belies the fact that this is not a natural disaster. The police, and most Chicagoans, talk about it like it just happened this way or, among the Trump crowd, is an artifact of race in the most violent areas. The reality is that the police adopted a strategy of confinement, not crime prevention or community service. Just make sure that the borders of "Chiraq" don't extend east of Western Ave. or north of Pershing and everyone can call that a win. If the parts of the city with money are safe, or have what would be considered a normal level of crime for a major city, the police and city leaders don't much worry about the other parts. The CPD has for the last few years adopted a strategy in areas like Austin and South Shore of, "Just call us when we need to come pick up the bodies."

It's nearly impossible to construct an explanation that doesn't involve racism. There's no getting around the fact that the shitty neighborhoods are black and the white and Hispanic parts of the city are safer and more actively policed. The police cite "gang problems" as if white and Hispanic people don't have gangs or drugs. That's not to say that with just a little more effort the police could equalize crime rates everywhere in the city. The problem is that nobody's even trying.

To listen to the national news talk about Chicago you'd think it's Sarajevo in the 90s and we all have to run from building to building in a low, serpentine manner to arrive at the office alive. That isn't reality for most of us. But for some people it is, and we're all uncomfortably satisfied with that.

21 thoughts on “HANDFUL OF POCKETS”

  • Both Sides Do it says:

    I've been making it a point to shop or go to a restaurant or a show below 40th street once a week. More of a conscience salve than anything else. But one of the few regular things I can think of to do.

    I try to get everyone I can to do the same. It's *amazing* the kind of rationalizations you get. "There was Ebola down there, I can't risk my health to make a meaningless gesture"

  • define and redefine says:

    I always kind of really enjoy the perception of crime compared to the reality. In all my experiences in places like Chicago and Baltimore and Philly, I've never really felt threatened or unsafe.

    Both Sides – I'd be happy to join you the next time I visit Chicago.

  • Detroit is one of my frequent trips.

    I often get a laugh when the other pilot, usually from some place in the South, finds out that Detroit isn't really the post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellscape he'd been told that it was.

  • More shootings west of the Dan Ryan than east??!!! Holy cow! The Dan Ryan was essentially built as a containment to keep blacks in the Black Belt. Now that the Robert Taylor homes have been demolished and Bronzeville Yuppified, crime has moved west.

    I think a major recent factor in Chicago crime is the dispersia of public housing residents following said teardown. They were given Section 8 vouchers and forced to move into new neighborhoods. As turf driven as Chicago has always been, upsetting neighborhood dynamics, something like this was bound to happen.

    Finally, I lived in Chicago for years. Since I am white, the only crime I ever experienced was car break-ins. FWIW.

  • GunstarGreen says:

    Consider, if you will, that money might be playing a bigger role than race here. As you said, "If the parts of the city with money are safe, or have what would be considered a normal level of crime for a major city, the police and city leaders don't much worry about the other parts."

    Now, if the parts of the city that don't have money are also the parts of the city that are predominantly black, that may indeed have a racial component. But the police policy of "protect the rich, screw everyone else" isn't really a racial thing. Cops killing black suspects at a much higher rate than others would be a racial thing, yes. But the cops don't give any more or less of a shit about poor black people in Chicago ghettos than they do poor white people in the hills of Kentucky. Both are mostly-lawless shitholes, and it has far more to do with how much money they've got (thus power and influence) than the color of their skin.

    But then, that's par for the course, really. In all the discussions around social justice, the factor that is least mentioned, if it is mentioned at all, is wealth. We have all kinds of social problems in this country, a country that hates everyone and everything under the sun for all kinds of genetic or cultural factors.

    But don't talk about the Wealth factor. That might make the wealthy elites quiver a little bit.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    What were once horrible neighborhoods in NY City back in the 70's, are now yuppie enclaves.

    The children and grandchildren of those who fled to the suburbs, now gladly return, and pay a fortune to live in an apartment that cost $90 a month 40 years ago!
    Now, ya gotta stesl, if it's less than $1 milliom!

  • My dad was in textbook sales and worked those rough parts of Manhattan back in the 60s and 70s when they really were rough (the Bowery, Hell's Kitchen).

    Today they're all gentrified.

  • Reminds me of a couple of poorly remembered lines from a couple of books:

    "Those that pay a lot of taxes get a lot of service." From some trashy J.D. McDonald Travis McGee book of the early 70's.

    The more recent one is from one of the funniest writers ever, Terry Pratchett. It's from "Thump", one of his Discworld books and concerns a couple of peace officers of the Nightwatch on foot patrol during a Dwarfs vs Trolls (gangs) period of unrest:

    "They walked like men who had all day. They did have all day. They had chosen this particular street because it was busy and wide and you didn't get too many trolls and dwarfs in this part of town. The reasoning was faultless. In lots of areas, right now, dwarfs or trolls were wandering around in groups or, alternatively, staying still in groups in case any of those wandering bastards tried any trouble in THIS neighborhood. There had been little flare-ups for weeks. In these areas, they considered, there wasn't much peace, so it was a waste of effort to keep what little was left, right? You wouldn't try keeping sheep in places where all the sheep got eaten by wolves, right? It stood to reason. It would look silly. Whereas in big streets like Broad Way there was lots of peace, which, obviously, needed keeping."

  • Thanks for the map, Ed; I think I'll use your idea and create my own map for my local area. Late this summer, my company is presenting at a conference in one of the nearby cities. We're fortunate that the (reasonably safe and quiet) public transportation has stops in Nearby Suburb and directly at the convention center (technically inside the convention center)–what could be easier? It's a huge conference with lots of out-of-towners in a reasonably-peaceful section of the city (the city doesn't want the rich conventioneers to be afraid, so there's always a lot of police presence for these things).

    My co-worker, who's also presenting, is pants-soilingly terrified of going into Teh CEEETY. OMG! There be dragons!

  • Ridnik Chrome says:

    I lived in Rogers Park (northernmost neighborhood on the lakefront, for non-Chicagoans, and also the home of Loyola University) for ten years in the late 80s-late 90s, and in that time there were five homicides just on the square block where I lived. Much of that violence was driven by drug dealing and gangs on Morse Avenue, but there was also quite a lot of tension between the neighborhood's black residents, many of whom lived in Section 8 housing, and white residents, many of whom were students. There was also a lot of property crime. I used to warn my friends from outside the neighborhood never to park cars overnight on Glenwood Avenue next to the L tracks because vehicular break-ins were so common there. The neighborhood crackheads would wait for a train to come and then smash out car windows and grab whatever was there to grab. The gutters on that street were always full of broken windshield glass. And there were a lot of burglaries and strong-arm robberies, too. A woman I knew was murdered when she walked in on two people burglarizing her apartment one night. The powers that be have been trying and trying for years to gentrify that neighborhood, but it's too far north to attract the kind of money they have been trying to attract. Anyone who can afford to pay a quarter of a million dollars for a one-bedroom condo is going to look for one closer to the Loop. My impression (based on stories from friends and my own semi-annual visits) is that it's gotten a bit safer in recent years, but that you are still a lot more likely to be struck by lightning there than you would be in, say, Wicker Park…

  • Ridnik Chrome says:

    P.S. I grew up in Chicago during the 70s and 80s, when it was violent pretty much everywhere. Before Rogers Park we lived in Logan Square and Lakeview (don't call it Wrigleyville!) when both of those were tough neighborhoods. Sunnyside, Queens, where I live now, is just as "urban" as Rogers Park was in terms of population density and ethnic diversity, but there is nowhere near the same level of crime. In fact, I'd say it's probably the safest place I've ever lived.

  • I've lived in Oakland CA for twenty years now. It seems to match up with Our Gracious Host's account of Chicago. There are spectacularly beautiful areas, and others that I prefer not to travel through on the bus. The latter is what shows up on the news, of course.

  • Actually this is not true. Crime in generally and murders are way down in Chicago, nowhere near records. Their policing prevention is working. Rather than criticize containment you should applaud it. The fact is that it works. There really is no other way besides Manhattanization. Just look at Detroit.

  • @Benny Lava,

    "Rather than criticize containment you should applaud it."

    Depends on which side of the bubble you live in. I live in New Orleans, in the Lower 9th Ward. You can't find a cop down here with a geiger counter.

  • "Containment" sounds like "Concentration" to me and I'm nearly as white as Andy Warhol or David Bowie. Keeping darksomefolk down is almost a religion among the "BestGeneration" and doesn't look to be dying with them.

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