Violence soars in Minneapolis after Floyd killing, but one Chicago police district is even worse

Chicago police investigate the scene where a 27-year-old man was shot and killed last week in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Chicago’s 11th district has had more fatal shootings this year than in all of Minneapolis or other big cities. Mayor Lori Lightfoot says her new budget will address the underlying causes of violence on the West Side, but some activists and aldermen want her to do more. To get a measure of just how bad crime is on Chicago’s West Side this year, one good place to start is about 350 miles away — Minneapolis.
Minneapolis has struggled with violence since May when a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck and he died, setting off protests, looting and rioting that spread across the country, including in Chicago.
Floyd’s killing shattered the friendly, stoic image of that city of 425,000, which is dealing with a growing murder problem. Through mid-November, Minneapolis has had almost 75 killings — stunning for a city with fewer than 50 killings in all of 2019.
But the violence alone in Chicago’s 11th police district, also known as the Harrison District, is worse.
The district — one of 22 — stretches from Roosevelt Road on the south to Division Street on the north and Cicero Avenue on the west to Western Avenue on the east. It’s less than 6 square miles, about a tenth of Minneapolis’ 58 square miles. Yet more people have been slain in the 11th District than in all of Minneapolis this year.
Almost 90 homicides — about 15 more than in Minneapolis — were recorded in the 11th District this year through mid-November.
The 11th District is typically one of the most violent areas of Chicago. Almost 70 people were murdered in the district over the same period last year.
But this year, the 11th District’s body count towers above the other districts and has helped to drive the number of killings across the city above 700 — more than 50% above the same time last year.
By the end of 2020, the number of killings in Chicago could be higher than any time since 1998.

Frank Main / Sun-Times
A heroin buyer is taken into custody by Chicago police officers in the 3600 block of West Flournoy in the 11th District in 2017.

The police department’s response to the violence is evolving.
Early in the year, interim Supt. Charlie Beck reorganized the department, emphasizing crime fighting at the district level. Then his successor, Supt. David Brown, put about 1,000 officers on new citywide teams to combat gun crime, looting and rioting.
In recent months, district officers have complained about being undermanned and working in conditions they fear are putting them at risk of getting the coronavirus. Arrests and traffic stops have fallen during the pandemic. And like in Minneapolis, police retirements are up in Chicago but not as sharply.
On Saturday, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum sent a message to its members — police chiefs across the country — noting the same problem in other departments.
“The day-to-day activity of working cops has changed when it comes to proactive police work. And the bad guys know this. Many of them are now carrying weapons, because they recognize that the chances of being stopped have been significantly reduced,” executive director Chuck Wexler said.
Wexler also said police reform and good police work can’t be mutually exclusive.
“They must work together toward the same goals. But right now, the prevailing narrative has had a devastating effect on officers who want to engage in proactive police work, but fear the consequences,” Wexler said.
Many other big cities — New York, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Nashville, to name just some — are also seeing large increases in homicides this year. New York had 405 slayings through mid-November compared with 295 over the same period last year, a 37% increase.
Nashville’s metropolitan area, with a population of nearly 700,000, has had about the same number of killings as the 11th District has had this year. And the city of San Francisco, with a population of almost 900,000, has had far fewer: 50 killings through Sunday compared with 35 last year.

Frank Main / Sun-Times
Killings are concentrated in parts of the 11th police district, shown on the map. Garfield Park is in the center of the West Side district. These 90 homicides occurred this year through mid-November. The inset is a map of the city’s 22 police districts.

Not only does the 11th District stand out locally and nationally for violence, some areas in the district are particularly deadly, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of city crime data.
This year through mid-November, 54 people were killed west and south of Garfield Park, which is in the middle of the district.
A small corner of the district — near Chicago and Homan avenues north of the park — had 18 killings while an area east of the park, which is at least four times as large, had fewer killings: 15.
There were only three killings in another large area in the district, northwest of the park.
In other words, the 11th District’s homicides have been concentrated in a few very dangerous places. Those high-violence areas are where most of the drug dealing and fatal overdoses happen, according to city and county records and court documents.
In one unique program in the 11th District, the police have been arranging treatment for nonviolent drug users instead of locking them up — but that doesn’t mean authorities haven’t tried to crack down on open-air drug markets.
According to federal prosecutors, police officers made more than 2,400 drug-related arrests around a drug market in the 1000 block of North Monticello between January 2019 and May 2020. More than 220 other arrests were for weapons. And officers were asked to respond to a staggering 19,000 calls about drug dealing there.
In July, the feds charged 18 men with drug conspiracy after an investigation into that drug spot. Last month, 39-year-old Anthony Sipp, described as an influential member of a Four Corner Hustlers gang faction, was fatally shot in the same area.

Frank Main / Sun-Times
Chicago police Capt. Steven Sesso operates a ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system in the 11th District.

Vacant lots where drug dealers and their customers congregate are on block after block in the 11th District. In the most dangerous parts of the district, the poverty is also the greatest and grocery stores are far away, so residents turn to convenience stores for their food.
“Anyone who has spent any time in Garfield Park will realize the enormous need the community has had for decades if not generations for real economic development and opportunity, and the scale of the resources that are required,” said Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “The good news is that progress is likely to fuel more progress — to create a virtuous cycle. Investments that promote development should help reduce violence, which all the data suggest should in turn lead to more development.”
But the West Garfield Park neighborhood has been part of a tale of two cities in Chicago for decades, as figures from the crime lab show. In the now-affluent 18th District, which includes the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park, the murder rate fell from 24 killings for every 100,000 people in 1985 to about seven per 100,000 people this year. Over the same period, the 11th District’s murder rate has soared from 46 per 100,000 to about 120 per 100,000.
Minneapolis has a murder rate of about 16 per 100,000.

Mayor’s office livestream
Mayor Lori Lightfoot holds a news conference in May in West Garfield Park to urge Chicagoans to stay home during the pandemic.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she’ll continue to fight poverty and crime in areas like West Garfield Park with her $12.8 billion “pandemic budget” that passed last Tuesday. City officials point to her Invest South/West plan to rebuild distressed communities, improvements to health care and traffic safety, and support for affordable housing and millions of dollars for violence-intervention groups.
“This effort is different than anything that has come before,” Lightfoot had said in her October budget address. “We are not doing a series of one-off, disconnected transactions for the community.”
After decades of hearing such promises, though, some activists and aldermen are skeptical. Black Lives Matter and other organizations say Lightfoot’s budget doesn’t go far enough to support low-income areas like the West Side.
“Instead of a moral budget we got a do-nothing budget,” Emma Tai of United Working Families said at a news conference the day before the budget was approved.
And last Tuesday, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) criticized the $1.7 billion Lightfoot earmarked for the police department after a summer of protests calling for defunding the police. She voted against the budget.

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