CHICAGO -- Estella Robinson doesn't want any more mothers to know the horror of losing a child to a bullet.
son, L.C. Robinson III, was shot and killed just after midnight Aug.
15 while he was standing on a corner chatting with a friend. He was 39, a
carpenter, the father of four. No one has been charged with his
Driven by gangs, drugs and guns, the bloodshed in
President Obama's adopted hometown has resulted in a body count that
exceeds the 312 murders this year in New York and 212 in Los Angeles,
cities with populations dwarfing that of the Windy City. The toll here
is up 25% from 2011: 391 through Sept. 23.
Last week, two men who
had been beaten to death were found in the trunk of a car. The same day,
a 17-year-old boy and a 33-year-old man were found shot to death. Those
and others to be added to the official tally push the number of
homicides in Chicago through September to the 400 mark for the first
time since 2003. That year, 601 murders were documented here; annual
totals have been in the 400s since 2009.
Jack Levin, a sociology
and criminology professor at Boston's Northeastern University, says it's
troubling that Chicago's murder count is rising while it falls in other
major cities. In 2010, Los Angeles had 297 murders, the lowest since
1967. New York homicides have been declining since 1990, when a record
2,245 fell in the nation's largest city.
Everyone agrees it must be stopped. But how?
Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy have deployed
more police to the most deadly areas, sought help from federal agencies
and swept up guns and drugs and the people who possessed them.
says the pace of murders has leveled off since the first three months
of the year. Police have studied the gangs and identified how they
have splintered and demarcated their territories. This allows police to
anticipate violence and retaliation, he says, and some drug markets have
been shut down because of the effort. McCarthy is enlisting athletes,
actors and musicians for an "anti-no-snitching campaign" - an effort to
stem a widespread street culture that discourages cooperation with
"It's really troubling when parents are not in control of
their children," McCarthy says. "The problem is much bigger than just
law enforcement. We accept our responsibility, but curing it is going
to take a heck of a lot more than just police work."
televised message to Chicagoans this summer, Obama urged people to
"foster strong and safe communities, to be good role models, to give our
children a deeper appreciation for the values in their own lives and
the lives of others."
Despite her grief, Robinson is trying to
think of ways to save another young man's life. "If you happen to see a
kid that you can help, that's what we can do," she says. "These kids who
are using guns think it's like on TV. They are lost. It's got to be in
your heart to reach out to one. One."
Driven by gangs, drugs
of the dead and their killers are young black men. Many live in
impoverished neighborhoods where gangs sell drugs and fight for
territory and market share. An Economic Policy Institute study released
in July found that 2011 unemployment among African Americans in Chicago
was 22.6%. Only Los Angeles and Las Vegas had higher rates.
says poverty is a significant factor in high homicide rates and also
"affects the ability of the city and the state to fund policies and
programs that effectively fight crime."
Levin says other big
cities wrestle with the murder problem: New York uses zero-tolerance
policing on juvenile crimes. Boston partners with community groups to
provide community centers and after-school programs for youths. Those
cities and Los Angeles "have taken a law-and-order approach, sending
larger numbers of police officers to crime hot spots," he says.
McCarthy says similar efforts are helping here. Even so, he says,
"between the number of gangs and the proliferation of firearms in the
city, that's a recipe for disaster."
Matt DeMateo has lived and
worked in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood for more than a decade.
He's a pastor of New Life Community Church and program director of New
Life Centers, a non-profit group that helps steer "gang-involved" youth
through juvenile courts and the school system.
This is what his
neighborhood is like: The dropout rate is about 50%. As many as 3,000 of
the area's 90,000 residents are in gangs that feud and exchange gunfire
regularly. If someone tries to leave a gang, its leaders issue an
"SOS" order for them. "Smash on sight," DeMateo explains. "They come at
Rescuing young people is difficult and the success rate
low, DeMateo says, but it can be done. He's trying to raise money to
build a 24/7 facility where youth can play basketball, work on computers
and stay off the streets. Money helps, he says, but "our strongest
resource is people. Any one of us isn't going to fix the problem, even
if we had billions of dollars and double the police."
director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, says money does help.
"Simply putting more police on the streets might be one of the most
cost-effective ways to reduce crime," he says.
In the past two
years, the number of Chicago police officers has dropped by about 1,000,
and the city now has between 11,000 and 12,000, including supervisors,
says Patrick Camden of the Fraternal Order of Police. "You need the
boots on the ground," he says. "Unless the community accepts that there
is a problem and they work for the solution, nothing is going to
'They feel no one cares'
Mark Kalema, pastor of
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in the city's South Shore neighborhood
less than 5 miles from Obama's home, was 10 when dictator Idi Amin's
troops arrived in his Ugandan village and killed his parents and
A few months ago, five people were shot at
the bus stop outside the church. "Almost every day there is a shooting
here. I have some fears at night sometimes when the alarm goes off,"
says the priest, who lives on church grounds.
When he walks
through his neighborhood, where many homes and businesses are vacant,
Kalema tries to talk to the young men who are so often the victims and
perpetrators of violence. "They feel, I think, that no one cares."
they tell him they are sorry for what they have done, he says, "but I
don't know if they are ready not to do it again. I wish we could listen
to them more. The ordinary people, we can be the solution by talking to
these young people."
Kalema invited his congregation to share
ideas for ways to end the bloodshed. Most are longtime residents of the
city's South Side:
Retired teacher Sharon Franklin says schools should have programs
to reacclimate students who have been imprisoned before they're allowed
back in classes.
Vernon Winstead, 75, says young fathers must be more involved in
their families. "I'm very intolerant of fathers who do not come out and
participate," he says. "At least walk them to school. At least read them
a story once a week. There is no excuse not to do it."
Ned Dunbar, 78, volunteers with the non-profit group P.A.R.E.N.T.S.,
reading to young children and helping them learn to read. "If a child
is successful in school, they have a chance to be successful in life,"
he says. "If they have not been taught by their parents, who may or may
not be able to read themselves, what can they do?"
Raphael St. Vil, 49, who moved here from Haiti, wants to start a
community center at Our Lady of Peace and teach young people art, music,
etiquette, fashion design and whatever else interests them. He was
robbed and knocked unconscious by a group of kids with a gun this
summer. "We have to do things ourselves to help ourselves."
James Lockhart, 74, has a different view. "When there comes a time
when the police can't protect you," he says, "you have a right to
protect yourself. Get your gun and start shooting."
'A dead-end street'
not the answer, says Andre Thurmon, pastor of St. Mark International
Christian Church. In July, he conducted the funeral of Heaven Sutton, 7,
who was killed outside her home by a stray bullet.
"We need more
community caring, more involvement, sterner rules," Thurmon says. He
wishes cops would enforce curfew laws more aggressively and fine parents
who let their kids run wild.
Mariame Kaba formed Project NIA
three years ago to advocate for youth in court, get them back in school
and help gang members leave that life. What they need most is jobs, she
says. "Until we solve that problem in Chicago, I don't think we're going
Garland Green is proof that change is possible. After
high school, he joined a gang and sold drugs but says he never
participated in violence. He landed in jail, then in a boot camp for
offenders. He went back to school and now works as a line cook at
Frontera Grill, one of the city's most famous restaurants, and owns a
catering company. "I know firsthand that (gang life) is a dead-end
street," he says.
Green, 40, has three kids who are too young to
be told about his past. When they're older, he says: "I will tell them
this is wrong. Period."
A few weeks ago his apartment was broken
into and his TV stolen. A couple days later, he was robbed by two boys
with a gun as he headed home from work. "Kids are not growing up with
their fathers," he says. "There's no urgency to keep kids in school."
understands the allure of life on the streets, but he knows the
dangers, too. "You're either rich, dead or in jail," he says. "To avoid
that, education always has been and always will be the answer."