‘THOSE LIVES CAN­NOT BE RE­PLACED’

CITY LEFT WITH GRIEF, FRUS­TRA­TION, FEW AN­SWERS AND MORE THAN 750 DEAD AF­TER WORST VI­O­LENCE IN 20 YEARS

Red Eye Chicago - - Front Page - By Jeremy Gorner

It was movie night in Demarco Kennedy’s Far South Side apart­ment. The 32-year-old rail­road worker’s wife and three chil­dren waited for him in the liv­ing room, with plans to watch the an­i­mated film “Rio 2.” He sat at his din­ing room ta­ble, pay­ing bills. Then, gun­shots.

Kennedy’s kids, coached in the past by their wary par­ents, dropped to the floor.

As the chil­dren at­tempted to crawl into a hall­way, Kennedy’s wife saw him fall over. The left side of his face was streaked with blood from a bul­let wound.

“He was grab­bing my hand real hard. He was try­ing to say some­thing and he couldn’t,” Ni­cole Cooper said Tues­day, re­count­ing the Au­gust evening when her hus­band was slain. “And when he re­leased my hand, that’s when he passed.”

With that ran­dom bul­let through the fam­ily’s win­dow, Kennedy be­came another homi­cide vic­tim in Chicago, one of more than 750 in 2016.

A per­sis­tent re­al­ity for some of Chicago’s tough­est neigh­bor­hoods, vi­o­lence un­nerved far reaches of the city in 2016 as shoot­ings and homi­cides soared. Not since the drug-fu­eled blood­shed of the mid-1990s had the city wit­nessed such a toll.

Some neigh­bor­hoods, al­ready scarred and gut­ted by years of vi­o­lence, suf­fered inor­di­nately. But the dan­ger spread into more neigh­bor­hoods, too, and ran­dom­ness be­came an all-too-fa­mil­iar el­e­ment to many shoot­ings.

Grim mile­stones added up: The dead­li­est month in 23 years. The dead­li­est day in 13 years. 4,300 peo­ple shot. As the year wound down, with the prom­ise of a new year com­ing soon, a vi­o­lent Christ­mas Day.

“It’s a shame. It’s a shame,” said Rafi Peter­son, a com­mu­nity ac­tivist in the Chicago Lawn com­mu­nity on the South­west Side. “Those lives can­not be re­placed.

“How did this hap­pen? Why is this con­tin­u­ing to hap­pen?”

For months, po­lice, politi­cians and res­i­dents have asked the same questions.

SEARCH­ING FOR AN­SWERS

In a re­cent in­ter­view at po­lice head­quar­ters, Su­per­in­ten­dent Ed­die John­son and his sec­ond-in-com­mand, First Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent Kevin Navarro, spec­u­lated on the rise in homi­cides. They blamed, in part, a per­ceived will­ing­ness by crim­i­nals to set­tle dis­putes with guns, and what they say is a fail­ure on the part of the jus­tice sys­tem to hold them ac­count­able.

“We used to re­spond to gang fights in progress … now we re­spond to shots fired,” Navarro said. “Peo­ple fought. Now ev­ery­one picks up the gun. Just like that.”

Through Dec. 26, 754 peo­ple were slain in Chicago com­pared with 480 dur­ing the same pe­riod last year, an in­crease of 57 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial Po­lice De­part­ment sta­tis­tics. The last time Chicago tal­lied a sim­i­lar num­ber of killings was in 1997, when 761 peo­ple were slain. Shoot­ing in­ci­dents also jumped by 46 per­cent this year to 3,512 from 2,398, the sta­tis­tics show.

What’s more, crimes went up by dou­ble dig­its in nearly every ma­jor cat­e­gory, in­clud­ing crim­i­nal sex­ual as­saults, rob­beries and thefts.

Month by month, Chicago’s homi­cide num­bers have ticked up­ward. On cold days and warm days, snowy days and dur­ing hol­i­day week­ends alike.

Kennedy’s slay­ing on Aug. 9 in Rose­moor was among the 92 homi­cides across Chicago that month, the most the city had seen for a sin­gle month since July 1993 when there were 99. The week­end im­me­di­ately be­fore Hal­loween ended with 59 peo­ple shot, 17 fa­tally, the dead­li­est week­end of 2016. In Novem­ber, homi­cides to­taled 77, the worst for that month since 78 in 1994.

The Po­lice De­part­ment sta­tis­tics do not

in­clude about an ad­di­tional 20 killings on area ex­press­ways, po­lice-in­volved shoot­ings, other homi­cides in which a per­son was killed in self­de­fense or death in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Look­ing back to 1998, when Chicago recorded 704 homi­cides, the city was in the midst of a homi­cide de­cline from more than 900 ear­lier in the decade. The turn of the mil­len­nium saw a bot­tom­ing out, with homi­cides drop­ping to 453 at the end of 2004—around the time the Po­lice De­part­ment be­gan re­ly­ing on com­put­er­ized data to know where to de­ploy of­fi­cers where they’re needed the most. The tally rose again some­what, then went down again in 2014, when the city recorded 416 slay­ings.

As the homi­cide num­bers headed up­ward this year, crime ex­perts cau­tioned against mak­ing year-to-year com­par­isons, ar­gu­ing that long-term trends give a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how the level of vi­o­lence in a city has changed over time.

Still, even though it has a lower homi­cide rate than many U.S. cities with smaller pop­u­la­tions, Chicago by far con­tin­ued to lead the na­tion in ac­tual num­ber of slay­ings.

The city’s homi­cides out­paced New York City and Los An­ge­les com­bined, even though their pop­u­la­tions far ex­ceed Chicago’s 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics through Dec. 18, the most re­cent pub­licly avail­able, New York and Los An­ge­les had a com­bined 613 homi­cides, fewer than Chicago’s to­tal. In ad­di­tion, there were a com­bined 2,306 shoot­ing vic­tims in the two cities, about half of Chicago’s to­tal.

Crime ex­perts can­not point to any de­fin­i­tive fac­tors for the in­creases in shoot­ings and homi­cides in Chicago this year. But some ex­perts have come to one con­clu­sion: Chicago’s dra­matic rise in homi­cides this year is the high­est of any ma­jor city.

A draft re­leased Thurs­day of a new study from the Univer­sity of Chicago Crime Lab noted that of the five largest U.S. cities by pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing New York City, Los An­ge­les, Philadel­phia and Hous­ton, Chicago has seen the largest sin­gle-year homi­cide in­crease of the past 25 years.

The study also noted that the in­crease in slay­ings this year was “sud­den and sus­tained,” with each month record­ing more homi­cides than the same months in 2015. But they pointed out that other cities through­out the coun­try have also seen in­creases in homi­cides.

“The fact that many other Amer­i­can cities saw homi­cides in­crease in 2015 and 2016 sug­gests that part of what Chicago ex­pe­ri­enced this past year may not be unique to our city,” ac­cord­ing to the study.

The study’s au­thors were care­ful to say they could not ex­plain why Chicago’s vi­o­lence has gone up, though they said weather pat­terns, de­clines in fi­nances for so­cial ser­vices, and any changes in po­lice re­sponse couldn’t be defini­tively linked to the sud­den and dra­matic

in­crease. They did note, how­ever, that more homi­cides were com­mit­ted with guns in Chicago than in other cities.

In 2016, about 91 per­cent of Chicago’s homi­cides were com­mit­ted with a firearm, up from 88 per­cent last year, the study showed. When you com­pare that with 1998, the last time Chicago recorded over 700 homi­cides, about 76 per­cent of those vic­tims were killed with guns, of­fi­cial Po­lice De­part­ment sta­tis­tics show.

Los An­ge­les’ homi­cides com­mit­ted with guns av­er­aged 72 per­cent from 2011 to 2015, and New York’s 60 per­cent, the study noted.

How­ever, Jens Ludwig, a pro­fes­sor of so­cial ser­vice ad­min­is­tra­tion, law and pub­lic pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Chicago, said that the study could not con­clude whether there were ac­tu­ally more guns on Chicago’s streets this year com­pared with past years.

“There’s no way to know if more guns are flood­ing into Chicago be­cause there’s no de­fin­i­tive mea­sure of the num­bers of guns in Chicago,” said Ludwig, one of the au­thors of the study.

PO­LICE STRUG­GLE

The year was tu­mul­tuous for the Chicago Po­lice De­part­ment, as it strug­gled to con­tain the rise in vi­o­lence while also un­der­go­ing re- forms sparked by the re­lease of a 2014 video that showed Officer Ja­son Van Dyke fa­tally shoot­ing 17-year-old Laquan McDon­ald. A tor­rent of street protests fol­lowed.

A wide-rang­ing civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment into the city’s po­lice prac­tices was launched. Van Dyke was charged with first-de­gree mur­der, and Mayor Emanuel fired po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent Garry McCarthy.

John­son, in the re­cent in­ter­view, said neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes to­ward the po­lice be­gan to grow in 2014 when a white po­lice officer fa­tally shot an un­armed black teen in Ferguson, Mo. The McDon­ald shoot­ing in­ten­si­fied that dis­trust and anger in Chicago.

These in­ci­dents di­min­ished the re­spect that po­lice once had, em­bold­en­ing crim­i­nals, John­son said.

“The level of dis­re­spect I see for po­lice now, I’ve never seen it like this in 28 years,” he said. “The will­ing­ness of the bad guy to en­gage a po­lice officer, I’ve never, it’s just dif­fer­ent. … Be­fore, they didn’t en­gage the po­lice like they do now.

“Now, the po­lice are per­ceived as the bad guy, and they’re not given the ben­e­fit of the doubt any­more,” John­son said. “Back then in ’98, it was the to­tal re­verse. ... Don’t think that the bad guy doesn’t look at what’s [hap­pen­ing] on CNN and say, ‘Oh, they’re re­ally giv­ing it to the po­lice. Now is my time to shine.’ ”

In­deed, of­fi­cers have told the Tri­bune that morale was lower this year. Of­fi­cers de­scribed tak­ing a more cau­tious ap­proach to their work, con­cerned they could end up in a viral video, sued or fired.

The Tri­bune chron­i­cled two key mea­sures that ap­peared to show cops scaled back on their in­ter­ac­tion with the pub­lic. Ar­rests, which have gen­er­ally been on the de­cline in re­cent years, dropped sharply through Dec. 25

“WE REC­OG­NIZE THAT WE DID TREAT CER­TAIN PARTS OF THIS CITY IN­AP­PRO­PRI­ATELY. AND THAT WAS OUR FAULT. SO WE HAVE TO COR­RECT THAT. BUT YOU CAN’T COR­RECT IT UN­TIL YOU AC­KNOWL­EDGE THAT IT WAS A PROB­LEM.” —Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent Ed­die John­son

to 84,644, a 24 per­cent de­crease from 111,499 a year ear­lier and the fewest in at least five years, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial po­lice sta­tis­tics.

Over that same pe­riod, street stops—in which of­fi­cers stop peo­ple on foot and doc­u­ment the in­ter­ac­tion—have plunged to 106,570, down 82 per­cent from 599,590 a year ear­lier. Of­fi­cers com­plain a longer, time-con­sum­ing form that po­lice must fill out for each stop has played a sig­nif­i­cant part in the drop.

How­ever, the draft U. of C. study re­leased Thurs­day ques­tioned whether Chicago’s de­cline in street stops and ar­rests truly could be a driv­ing fac­tor of vi­o­lence, not­ing that when New York’s stops dropped in re­cent years, homi­cides did not dra­mat­i­cally in­crease. Still, the re­searchers noted that re­duc­ing street stops could have a dif­fer­ent ef­fect “across cities,” but that the fac­tor isn’t well un­der­stood yet.

Crit­ics of the de­part­ment say that decades of officer mis­con­duct and the de­part­ment’s fail­ure to dis­ci­pline of­fi­cers have also played a large role in the pub­lic’s mis­trust of po­lice.

John­son ac­knowl­edged there is a widened gap be­tween po­lice and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, a dis­trust that he and some crime ex­perts be­lieve has con­trib­uted to the in­crease in vi­o­lence.

“We treated the black com­mu­nity in­ap­pro­pri­ately in a lot of in­stances,” he said dur­ing the in­ter­view. “You can­not go into a com­mu­nity and stop ev­ery­body. You see a man with a Com­cast uni­form on ... walk­ing his wife to the gro­cery store, and you’re stop­ping him. Why?

“That cre­ates a lot of mis­trust be­tween the com­mu­nity and the Po­lice De­part­ment,” John­son con­tin­ued. “We rec­og­nize that we did treat cer­tain parts of this city in­ap­pro­pri­ately. And that was our fault. So we have to cor­rect that. But you can’t cor­rect it un­til you ac­knowl­edge that it was a prob­lem.”

GUNS AND GANGS

Po­lice of­fi­cials have also blamed much of Chicago’s vi­o­lence on the flow of il­le­gal firearms through dan­ger­ous neigh­bor­hoods, mainly on the South and West sides. That prob­lem, ex­perts say, is far worse in Chicago than in New York and Los An­ge­les.

John­son has spo­ken often about leg­is­la­tion in the works in Spring­field aimed at re­quir­ing re­peat gun of­fend­ers to serve longer pri­son terms.

Of­fi­cials have also blamed an in­tractable gang prob­lem in Chicago for the vi­o­lence. Once highly struc­tured and hi­er­ar­chal, Chicago’s street gangs have frac­tured into small fac­tions. Petty dis­agree­ments and per­sonal dis­putes fu­eled by so­cial me­dia can quickly turn vi­o­lent, po­lice of­fi­cials have said.

John­son said the de­part­ment is try­ing to uti­lize its so-called strate­gic sub­ject list to beat back gangs. The de­part­ment uses a com­put­er­ized al­go­rithm to iden­tify about 1,400 peo­ple, mostly gang mem­bers, con­sid­ered most likely to shoot some­one or be­come a vic­tim of vi­o­lence. Once they’re iden­ti­fied, the de­part­ment tries to con­tact these peo­ple, warn them of the con­se­quences of their life­styles and steer them on the right path by of­fer­ing them an ar­ray of so­cial ser­vices.

NEIGH­BOR­HOODS UN­DER FIRE

Most of the vi­o­lence in 2016 has been con­cen­trated on the South and West sides, in com­mu­ni­ties strug­gling with decades of poverty, en­trenched seg­re­ga­tion, gangs, ram­pant nar­cotics sales and other so­cial ills.

Two of the city’s his­tor­i­cally most vi­o­lent po­lice dis­tricts—Har­ri­son and En­gle­wood— ac­count for al­most one-fourth of Chicago’s homi­cides and shoot­ing in­ci­dents. But vi­o­lence has touched most of the city, spik­ing in nearly all of the 22 pa­trol dis­tricts.

Some of the city’s hard­est-hit neigh­bor­hoods in the 1990s re­main so to­day. En­gle­wood and Deer­ing on the Far South Side, and Har­ri­son and Austin on the West Side, all saw steep rises in homi­cides and shoot­ing in­ci­dents in 2016.

Other neigh­bor­hoods that had high homi­cide tal­lies in the late ’90s have changed. The Shake­speare Dis­trict, which in­cludes now­gen­tri­fied neigh­bor­hoods like Wicker Park and Lo­gan Square, recorded 30 homi­cides in 1998, while tal­ly­ing only nine in 2016.

Be­yond the num­ber of homi­cides, Chicago po­lice’s suc­cess in solv­ing mur­ders con­tin­ues to de­cline, with the de­part­ment solv­ing fewer homi­cides than the past two years.

‘EV­ERY­BODY’ HAS A GUN

The per­sis­tent vi­o­lence af­fects how some fam­i­lies ap­proach ev­ery­day liv­ing. They choose not to go out­side, they say. They avoid open win­dows and slow-mov­ing cars. They dream of get­ting out.

Cooper, whose hus­band was shot in Au­gust, grew up in the Frank O. Low­den Homes pub­lic homes on the South Side. She be­gan dat­ing Kennedy in the eighth grade. They had three chil­dren to­gether, their first when they were in high school.

“We just be­came adults at a young age,” said Cooper, now 32. “That’s my life­long partner. I don’t know any­one else but him.”

Kennedy worked for about four years as a truck driver for the Burling­ton North­ern Santa Fe rail­road, in­clud­ing on the grave­yard shift. Cooper, at one time, was work­ing three jobs her­self.

Even be­fore Kennedy’s death, Cooper said their fam­ily often tried to stay away from win­dows in their apart­ment, fear­ful of gun­fire in the neigh­bor­hood. When it oc­curred, Kennedy would al­ways be the one to rush over to his chil­dren and tell them to get down, she said.

They had planned to leave their neigh­bor­hood for a bet­ter one, wait­ing out their lease.

Cooper lamented that crim­i­nals with gun con­vic­tions are given lax penal­ties, if they’re caught at all.

“They don’t re­al­ize what they do to the fam­i­lies when they kill some­one,” she said. “Me and my chil­dren are go­ing to coun­sel­ing once a week be­cause they don’t know how to live with­out their fa­ther.”

Kennedy’s older brother, Lorenzo, cuts hair in a bar­ber shop and will open his own place next month. He’s named it Demarco’s Bar­ber Lounge, for his brother.

In his neigh­bor­hood grow­ing up, mak­ing it to 30 with­out hav­ing “to sell drugs for the rest of your life” was a bless­ing, he said. And many younger peo­ple in Chicago to­day don’t have much of a chance to live that life, he said.

“I feel sorry for the kids that do know right from wrong ... and end up los­ing their lives and get­ting shot in the process of a cou­ple of lit­tle knuck­le­heads who ... close their eyes when they shoot,” he said.

“Ev­ery­body got guns. Ev­ery­body got 30 bul­lets in their gun.”

“THEY DON’T RE­AL­IZE WHAT THEY DO TO THE FAM­I­LIES WHEN THEY KILL SOME­ONE. ME AND MY CHIL­DREN ARE GO­ING TO COUN­SEL­ING ONCE A WEEK BE­CAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW HOW TO LIVE WITH­OUT THEIR FA­THER.” — Ni­cole Cooper, 32, who lost her hus­band in a shoot­ing on the South Side in Au­gust

ABEL URIBE / TRI­BUNE

Fam­ily mem­bers, friends and vol­un­teers carry more than 700 crosses along Michi­gan Av­enue on Dec.31 in honor of those killed in 2016.

CHRIS SWEDA/TRI­BUNE FILE

Peo­ple hold up can­dles and phones as they re­mem­ber Eli­jah Sims, a 16-year-old boy killed in Oak Park in Au­gust.

ERIC CLARK FILE PHOTO FOR THE TRI­BUNE

Chicago Po­lice in­ves­ti­gate a homi­cide crime scene in June.

ARMANDO L. SANCHEZ/TRI­BUNE

Peo­ple gather at a vigil for Jeremy Nixon, who was found dead in De­cem­ber in Riverdale.

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