The following is a transcript of an investigative report on Full Measure News. Click on the link at the end of the transcript to watch the video story.
Chicago residents wake up Mondays to check the reports of their city’s all too often shocking number of weekend shootings and killings. Chicago may not have the highest murder rate in the country, but Scott Thuman reports the violence is staggering.
Visuals of crime scenes and protesters:
What do we want? Peace.
Don’t pull that trigger bro.
To see my daughterwith a gunshot wound to the forehead
Somebody on these streets want to take her life.
I’m tired of seeing all the violence out here.
Scott Thuman: The people of Chicago had hoped and thought that things were improving, that gang crime was declining.
From the shocking numbers of the early 90’s with over 900 murders in a single year to a steady decline in recent years, 492 last year.
But with nearly 600 murders just by the end of September, Chicago is reeling.
Multiple web sites keep constant track of the carnage: From the snarky Heyjackass and anonymous secondcitycop blog to the homicide trackers the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune feature.
But those raw numbers and dots on maps don’t expose the raw nature of the violence; violence that in just a few days this summer, took the lives of a half dozen children under 10, including seven-year-old Natalia Wallace, shot to death while playing on the sidewalk as she attended a family Fourth of July party.
Chicago’s stubbornly high number of shootings is rooted in a decades-old gang problem related to drug trafficking. The city has long been used as a national distribution hub for illegal drugs coming from Mexico. To fight back, prosecutors in the 90’s successfully targeted the large organized gangs that controlled local sales and helped cartels distribute nationally. But the busts had the unintended consequence of splintering those dealers into scores of small gangs and groups fighting sometimes over just 1 block of territory.
Around the same time, the city tore down huge public housing projects controlled by gangs, replacing them with smaller housing units throughout the city which in some respects, just spread the problem.
As gangs spread into that new public housing, the drug dealing moved with them.
And coronavirus changed things too.
Another contributing factor, when the stay-at-home order was lifted in Chicago, those who lost money and business were anxious to get back to work. That included gang members selling drugs.
One Chicago alderman says the pressure to make up for those losses led to an explosion in violence.
Alderman Christopher Taliaferro: It's an illegal operation, but it's a business. If you have on your business lens, whether you're a gang member or not, your first thing that you look at day after day is profit. Am I able to sustain myself? Am I making profit? And they do the same thing.
Alderman Christopher Taliaferro heads the Chicago City Council Public Safety Committee and was a cop for 23 years.
Taliaferro: They lost revenue. So they're selling 24-seven.
Scott: So the average dealer on a street corner is making between 13 and $18,000 a week?
Taliaferro: That’s correct.
Thuman: Sounds like a lot of money.
Taliaferro: That money does not stay with the person that's selling. It’s almost as if the hierarchy will expect you to make that up. So if I could push you out there to sell more, you’re going to go out and sell more. That's one of the driving forces behind the violence.
Trump: It’s not even conceivable. That’s worse than Afghanistan I hate to say it. That’s worse than any war zone that we’re in.
Scott: Chad Wolf, acting head of the Department of Homeland Security told us the President is now focused on Chicago as a target for Operation Legend.
Chad Wolf DHS: They partner with state and local officials as they move into Chicago, as they come into Chicago to help them. And what does that mean? Surging resources means that they can investigate more cases quicker.
Scott: But in Chicago, activist Aisha Oliver says President Trump isn’t really interested in helping the situation, but rather, in fighting with the Mayor.
Alisha Oliver: It seems to me like he has been picking at Chicago for a while now.
Scott: Oliver lives in the Austin neighborhood, just a short distance from where gangsters shot and killed 3-year-old Mehki James while he was riding home in a car with his stepfather after getting a haircut.
Oliver: Now it's wherever they find you. The expressway, gas station. It could be broad daylight. No one's off limits. There's this sense of almost like notoriety, like they want attention so bad that they're willing to be involved with things or with people, anyone who will show them a little bit of love or a little bit of attention.
Scott: Even if It's a gang?
Oliver: Even if it's a gang.
Scott: Oliver, the daughter of a former gang member, says avoiding gang life and the all-day drug dealing in their communities has become increasingly tough for kids.
Alderman Taliaferro believes despite the difficulty, some in gangs can be saved.
Taliaferro: There are those that are carrying guns that are shooting people that we're not going to be able to reach with a job. Many of them want to shoot. They want to carry a gun. Jail is reserved for those folks, but if we could put the proper resources in those that do want to make a difference and want to change and perhaps take a different path, then we need to put resources in those.
Scott: These 3 teens, Darian, Zion and Lester say they have avoided gang life, but not the troubles of the neighborhood.
And all 3 have stories of run-ins with what they call ‘bad cops’who they think don’t care enough about the people they are supposed to be protecting.
Darian: Me and my friends be like chilling outside, wasn't doing nothing, bothering nobody and the police that pulled up like a couple cars deep feeling like we doing something just cause it's a group of us like outside. And I feel like that was wrong because we ain't bothering nobody.
Scott: But they also speak of good cops who want to work with the community, even stopping to join a basketball game.
And they have not given up on the place where they live.
Darian: And I feel like I want to stay, like if everybody started leaving, like who, like who they gonna have like to be the voice of their community.
Scott: Despite anti-police protests and their feelings about some officers, it may then be surprising to hear, they don’t want police taken off their streets.
Zion: I can just imagine right now how the world would be without cops. Like it might be a lot of destruction and violence; probably a lot, way more killing.
Scott: Alderman Taliaferro agrees. Shrinking the police force in Chicago he contends has already been tried and failed.
Taliaferro: We needn’t look no further than 2007 in the city of Chicago. We went from 13,500 officers to approximately 9,300.
Scott: The number of murders didn’t jump after the cuts, but crimes like burglaries and car thefts did. Many Chicagoans called for more police and the department rebounded to 13,000 officers.
Taliaferro: I saw an ad.
Trump TV ad: You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we’re sorry but no one is here to take your call.
Taliaferro: I don't agree with many things that our president has spewed or has said but his ad was very effective. That's what defunding the police looks like.
Oliver: We need people to understand that we are human. We're not asking for them to just wipe out our police department, not in a city like Chicago.
Scott: With no sign of change in Chicago’s status as a drug distribution hub, the problem in her neighborhood and others remains, a city trying to reverse its deadly trajectory.
Sharyl (on camera): Have police announced any changes in the way they do things to combat the violence?
Scott (on camera): Police announce changes in strategy and tactics every few months it seems, but as you can see, none of them are working now.