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Chicago Copes With Violence As It Rages Throughout The City


Later today, Chicago city officials will release video, audio and other material from as many as a hundred police incidents, including officer-involved shootings. This is part of an effort to increase transparency in the police department and to rebuild trust with communities following several high-profile officer-related incidents.

AILSA CHANG: And it comes at a difficult time for Chicago and its police. Violent crime is on the rise. The murder rate is up 40 percent over this time last year. And during Memorial Day weekend alone, almost 70 people were shot. Here is the Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson speaking on Tuesday.


EDDIE JOHNSON: What I see again and again are good guys and women trying to do a tough job in a difficult circumstance and environment. This weekend was no exception - dozens of shootings, several of them fatal. I wish I could track the number of crimes we prevented. There's just simply not a way to measure the violence that we stop.

CHANG: To get a sense of how the city is coping with the violence that isn't being stopped, we reached out to Mary Mitchell. She is a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. I asked her if she feels like the crime problem in her city is getting worse.

MARY MITCHELL: Certainly does, but for people who live in Chicago, most of us understand that as the weather warms up, more people are on the street, that crime does increase, homicides increase. That's a very unfortunate situation, but it's something that we know happens every year. This year seems to be far worse because we have increased numbers of homicides, but people here understand that we are living in a dangerous city at a dangerous time. It used to be that it would happen if there was a large gathering, a lot of people in the park. Now it seems to be happening just about everywhere.

CHANG: What's the mood like there? Can they feel that the numbers are up this year?

MITCHELL: Our people are afraid. Chicago has lost a large population of African-Americans. People have moved out. They've moved to the suburbs. I've talked to a lot of parents who've actually shipped their children out of town to live with relatives and grandparents because of the crime. So I would say that in a lot of these neighborhoods, people are very, very much afraid.

CHANG: Why is the violence getting worse?

MITCHELL: Well, I think it's two-pronged. One is because on one hand you have a lot of gang activity. You still have a lot of drug activity. But the other thing is that you have the conflict between the Chicago Police Department and community. If police feel overburdened, that they are not being respected, that they're under spotlight and whatever happens there's going to come back to haunt them, and actually they're not - I don't think they're as aggressive at stopping people and pulling people over and stops-and-frisk and trying to pick up guns. Chicago had the reputation of taking a lot of guns off the street. We are seeing a slowdown on guns being removed. So I think you see a lot of guns in the wrong hands, a lot of hotheaded young people who are using those guns.

CHANG: That's interesting. Do you think the police agree with that theory, that they would acknowledge that they're backing off and that has resulted in a rise in violence?

MITCHELL: Yes. Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a statement about police being in a fetal position because of the complaints and demonstrations across the country because of police-involved shootings. And now we have our own police-involved shooting that got national attention. That was Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a police officer. And that was on tape. I think police officers are very much concerned about being caught up in a situation where when they use force that they are going to be accused of using excessive force.

CHANG: So is there a plan to stop the violence? Are there more cops on patrol now?

MITCHELL: The conversation now has really centered around improving the relationship between community and police officers so that the community feels comfortable reporting crime. But the fact of the matter is people want to see more police officers in these communities, on the streets. They want to see them in their squad cars. They want to see them on bicycles. They want to see them walking about in the community.

CHANG: I understand there has been a lot of friction between the police and the community since the shooting of Laquan McDonald. You just referenced that shooting. And now we understand more police videos are being released today. Why? What's being released?

MITCHELL: There have been many cases of police-involved shootings where relatives of those victims are coming out and demanding that the videos be released. People want to know what are police are doing? They want to know how these young people are ending up dead at the hands of police officers. At the same time, you still have shootings in the community that have nothing to do with police officers that are taking so many lives.

CHANG: Mary Mitchell is a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. Thanks so much for talking with us, Mary.

MITCHELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.