United States Murder Capital Is a Case Study in Bad Public Policy

It has been more than 20 years since the death of seven-year-old Dantrell Davis, shot holding his mother’s hand while walking to school, shocked Chicago into taking decisive action about the sickening violence taking over the city. Twenty years later, the city’s leaders have still not found a solution.

Last year, there were 506 reported murders in the city of Chicago. Even worse, only 25% of these murders were solved, a horrendous clearance rate that also has the terrible implication that getting away with murder is easy. These numbers stunned the nation and forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Obama into declaring that they would take strict control of the city and the rising violence.

While overall murders have dropped 34% from at this point last year, these results are only the result of massive expenditure on heavy police presence (Chicago has already burned through $31.9 million of the $38 million allotted for police overtime) and the terrible weather throughout the year, which has kept people off the streets. Neither of these solutions are sustainable or reliable in the long term.

To understand how Chicago has become the murder capital of the USA, one must first understand the political structure of the city. The mayor rules by fiat (see the $300 million DePaul Arena and the bulldozing of a runway at Meigs Field), allowing the City Council and Cook County Board of Commissioners to focus on what they do best — lining their pockets and harassing opponents. One only needs to look at the example of Tony Peraica, one of the few elected Republicans in Cook County, who was arrested right before his election for allegedly vandalizing yard signs. He was conveniently arrested in the town his opponent was mayor of and subsequently lost his election, but not before having his house targeted by assassins. One-party rule is the norm, and prevents any meaningful reform.

As a result, the incompetent and corrupt leaders of Illinois and Chicago have been allowed to enact policies for decades that have caused the constant orgy of violence. The main cause of violence anywhere has been repeatedly shown to be poverty, and the leaders of Chicago and Illinois have been extraordinarily successful in mismanaging the economy of the entire city and state. Currently, Chicago has the highest unemployment rate for a major metropolitan area in America at 10%. The entire state is completely broke, having driven away any businesses with overregulation and unions receiving ludicrous pensions that have driven the state into a ditch, with a $100(!) billion unfunded pension liability hanging over its neck. The state had the lowest credit rating in the United States, was recently downgraded yet again, and Moody’s rating agency has threatened to downgrade the state even further if its leaders do not get the state’s financial health in order. All this has led to grinding poverty, which combined with the calamitous public education system in Chicago, has led to gangs of disaffected youth taking over parts of the city.

Gang violence has been a problem in Chicago for decades, but back when the projects were in place, the violence was controlled, and had Chicago done what New York City did and invested in the projects intelligently while hiring police and taking tough measures toward crime, gang violence may have been curtailed. Rather, the leaders of Chicago, after the outcry from the death of Dantrell Davis, decided to tear down the projects and not do anything else other than spend millions defending police officers who used torture to coerce confessions, appease unions, and allow the financial standing of the city to collapse. This inaction allowed gangs to splinter and begin turf wars all over the city. The city of Chicago now lacks the money and the manpower to effectively battle the new gangs.

Of course, this being Chicago, the leaders made the situation even worse when they declared Chicago a “Sanctuary City” and when Mayor Emanuel declared that the police would not obey the Secure Communities federal program, in which local police share the fingerprints of everyone they book with federal immigration agents. This has led to Chicago becoming a haven for illegal immigrants, who are estimated to comprise 4% of Chicago’s population. These illegal immigrants presumably do not help the employment situation, as they almost exclusively take jobs away from low-income African Americans. Short-sighted thinking and politicking has now added a racial element to the violence, as now African American gangs have begun to ally to fight the Latin American gangs which are quickly overrunning their territory as their numbers swell. Estimates suggest that 60 to 90% of the members of Latin American gangs like MS-13 and the Latin Kings are illegal immigrants who have been granted a haven and protected from federal officials by the Chicago government.

Most of Chicago’s crime problems are the fault of its elected officials, who have for decades ignored or taken woefully poor decisions to combat the violence. The kowtowing to unions and baffling economic decisions of the legislature in Springfield have prevented jobs and investment from flowing into the areas that need it the most. Rather than confront the issue and reform, Democrats in Chicago have politicized gun control, and now Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the country, and one of the highest murder rates to show for it. Literally every move made by Chicago’s government has exacerbated the violence that plagues the city and one can only hope that finally the city leaders will understand that they themselves are the problem. Otherwise, America will be forced to subsidize a martial presence in Chicago’s worst neighborhoods in perpetuity.  

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Reno Varghese

I attend the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and study International Political Economy. In my spare time I like to read Russian literature, learn Spanish and Persian, debate deontological ethics, practice legerdemain and prestidigitation, and play guitar, drums, violin, and piano. Keeping it casual always.

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