Chicago officials have been fighting the city’s Al Capone image for decades, but escalating violence promises to destroy those efforts.
With the unofficial start of summer barely underway, more than three dozen shootings have been reported so far this weekend, and fears are growing outside the South and West side neighborhoods where violence is endemic. As of early Sunday, four of the shootings were fatal, the Chicago Tribune reported, compared with last year when 12 people were killed and 44 wounded during the entire holiday period.
So far this year, 250 people have been victims of homicides in Chicago, 221 of them shot to death, statistics posted on Dnainfo indicate. In 2015, 468 people were slain, making the city the nation’s murder capital for the year.
Nerves were frayed last summer when roving gangs of youths harassed shoppers along the city's Magnificent Mile shopping district.
Recent weeks have seen a spate of shootings along the city’s highways, with police unclear in several instances whether the victims were hit by random gunfire or were targeted. The most likely explanation for most of the incidents, investigators said, is that they are gang-related. The Chicago Police Department and Illinois State Police stepped up patrols this weekend, using planes to help track the highways.
“I want everyone to know that they will be safe on the expressways — we will not tolerate shootings on the expressways,” State Police Director Leo Schmitz told a news conference.
There have been 20 expressway shootings this year, both along interstate highways and scenic Lake Shore Drive, compared with 12 last year during the same period and 37 for the entire year.
Brian Althimer, a WGN-AM, Chicago, producer posted on Facebook he was driving home from his second job May 21 when a tan sport-utility vehicle pulled up next to him and a man in the car “pointed a gun at me.”
Althimer told Patch he wonders if the increase in expressway shootings is some kind of gang initiation activity.
“I honestly don't feel safe in my own city,” he said. “I'm a big guy, but these dudes out here are on some other agenda. ... Until [police] figure out how to stop the madness, I will wear my [bulletproof] vest while driving because I don’t feel safe.”
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he thinks most of the incidents are spillovers from violence in the neighborhoods, rather than road rage.
“I think a lot of expressway shootings result from verbal confrontations that are happening inside the city, and the folks involved are getting on the expressways and going after each other,” Johnson said.
Jacqueline Battalora, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, told Patch the incidents are getting attention because the violence has migrated from minority neighborhoods to areas frequented by white commuters from the suburbs.
“In this country, when white people are harmed, threatened and made to feel like their space is not safe, the country reacts,” Battalora said.