Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is murder total an over-rated stat?

With just over two months to go in the year, the total number of homicides in Chicago during 2012 has already reached the same level as all of 2011.

I’m sure there will be those who will be shocked and appalled to learn of a rising level of the number of people who die due to the deliberate actions of another human being (which is the definition of homicide – murder is the legal term for those homicides that can’t be justified).

YET I HAVE to confess to being unimpressed by this increase. Perhaps it’s because I remember the times of the late 1980s back when I worked for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago and became immersed in just about every death that took place in the city.

Back in those days, the total number of homicides in Chicago broke down to an average of two or three per day. The yearly total could easily climb to just over 1,000.

So when I learned that Chicago tied last year’s mark by having its 435th homicide this past weekend (according to the Chicago Tribune), it just sounded so petty by comparison.

I realize that every life has a story and that there is somebody out there for each of those 435 dead people. But in the larger picture, it just seems so little compared to the past.

I CAN’T GET all aroused in anger at the thought that we “tied” 2011 (and in fact by now have probably surpassed it). We’ve made progress compared to our recent past – things are calmer than they used to be.

Although to be honest, those old days that I (and a crew of several other aspiring young reporter-types whom I now hear from mostly through the occasional  Facebook “friend” update) covered also were not quite as straight-forward as they would sound by the numbers.

More than 1,000 deaths by human action per year. Two to three murders per days.

Actually, there were some neighborhoods in Chicago that rarely saw violence – which means there were others that saw the brunt of urban warfare.

INVARIABLY, THERE WOULD come a weekend or two during the summer when things would get out-of-hand and we might get 15 to 20 people being killed in a two-day period.

Which boosts up the daily average considerably – making it possible to have other days when nobody was killed.

Part of the reason for the reduction is the elimination of the old public housing “high-rises” that congregated far too many people with little in life into too far small a space. It created an environment that no human being should ever have had to endure.

But the sad thing is that one aspect of urban violence hasn’t changed. It is still something largely isolated to certain neighborhoods of the inner-city persuasion.

THERE ARE SOME people in Chicago who live in communities where it is significant if there is a purse snatching. A storefront stickup would be a cataclysmic event!

Murder would be unheard of – unless it somehow spread over a neighborhood boundary and could be blamed on some other community.

Too many of us are accepting of that – as though we think there are certain people in Chicago who don’t really deserve to be protected from crime and violence. Which, of course, is nonsense!

And as much as some of us like to adopt an attitude that the suburbs are somehow safe and pristine, there are some communities that see crime levels as high as any city neighborhood.

WHAT ULTIMATELY BOTHERS me about the idea of our “tying” last year’s homicide rate is that some people are going to use this idea of increased violence for reactionary policies.

Or, worse yet, they’re going to see that it didn’t directly impact “their” neighborhood, and figure it means that it really doesn’t matter to them.

It’s something we all ought to be concerned about!


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