Children continue to die in a Chicago that’s getting nowhere when it comes to curbing violent crime.
This time it was Janari Ricks, a 9-year-old boy. Janari was playing outside his home on the Near North Side on Friday evening. Somebody shot into a crowd and Janari caught a bullet in the chest. An hour later, he was dead.
If there’s a corner in heaven for kids killed in Chicago, it’s a crowded place.
It seems like only yesterday that we told you about 3-year-old Mekhi James, who was killed on June 20 when somebody pulled alongside his mother’s car in Englewood and started shooting. And about 13-year-old Amaria Jones, who was killed that night by a bullet that flew through the window of her home in Austin while she was showing her mother a dance move.
And about 1-year-old Sincere Gaston, who was killed on June 27 in Englewood when somebody shot into his mother’s car. And about 10-year-old Lena Nunez, who was killed that night when a bullet came through the window of her grandmother’s apartment in Logan Square.
And about 7-year-old Natalie Wallace, who was killed on the Fourth of July by a stray bullet at a family party in South Austin. And about 14-year-old Vernado Jones Jr., who was shot and killed that night while standing on the corner of 61st and Carpenter.
So far this year, at least 430 people have been shot dead in Chicago, including Janari Ricks and eight others this past weekend. Chicago’s on a bloody murder tear, outpacing a national surge in homicides — and everybody is blaming everybody.
We see right and wrong all around.
Begins with guns
We’ll start with guns. We remain convinced that the easy access to guns in this country lies at the very heart of the matter. Nothing else explains why murder rates in the United States are so much higher than in most of the rest of world.
So far this year, the Chicago police have recovered 5,736 guns, which works out to 24 or 25 guns for every square mile.
Until our nation finally enacts a federal strategy on gun control, limiting the manufacture of the most lethal weapons, requiring background checks on all gun buyers and the reporting of all sales, guns will continue to flow into Chicago from irresponsible dealers in the suburbs and from states with looser laws.
Experts also point to factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the recession and the national backlash against police tactics in the wake of the death of George Floyd beneath a police officer’s knee.
The pandemic may actually be discouraging some sorts of crime, such as robberies and burglaries. There are fewer people outdoors to rob and fewer houses to burglarize when so many of us are staying at home.
But, the experts conjecture, the closing of schools and churches likely has resulted in a softening of social controls on criminal behavior. And it is a problem made worse by a greater sense of alienation among police officers — and a greater distrust of the police.
Certainly, that appears to be the case in Chicago, though levels of alienation and distrust were high even before the pandemic and the current protests.
On Monday, Police Supt. David Brown stressed the hard work of officers in combating the violence. He singled out for praise the “brave work” of detectives who have recovered dozens of illegal firearms in recent weeks, including at a gang funeral.
But there is a general belief in Chicago, we must add, that the police are lying down on the job, as reflected in lower numbers of arrests, traffic stops and street contacts.
Cops fed up
Rank-and-file officers, we are told, are fed up with policing reforms that, they believe, limit their ability to do their jobs. They are furious that critics have portrayed them as racists and thugs in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. And they dread the idea of being caught on video doing what they believe to be appropriate police work — such as getting physical with an offender to make an arrest — that others might call excessive force.
It does not help that John Catanzara Jr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, has exploited those fears and politicized every disagreement with City Hall.
Catanzara has threatened to kick out of the union any officer seen “taking a knee” in solidarity with Black Lives Matter demonstrators — a threat that has not gone down well with many Black officers and others. He wrote a letter to President Trump last month in which he invited the help of federal troops and called Mayor Lori Lightfoot a “complete failure.”
Lightfoot, for her part, has both defended and swatted down the police, but not always with a sense of proportion. In June, when an officer flipped his middle finger at a group of protesters, the mayor said the cop should be fired.
Fired? For flipping somebody the bird? In Chicago?
A matter of trust
We remain committed to the cause of police reform in Chicago. We reject the notion that better police practices, more respectful of civil liberties, are antithetical to effective police work. On the contrary, they are essential to rebuilding community trust, the foundation of police work.
The Chicago police over the weekend arrested a suspect in the killing of young Janari Ricks.
Somebody from the neighborhood, trusting the cops, dropped them a line.
That’s a big part of what it’s going to take to beat back violent crime in Chicago: The police and every neighborhood working together, on the basis of trust, led by a mayor who seeks to bring out the best in us.
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