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Chicago homicides hit 500 mark, city’s deadliest year since 2008

Rahm Emanuel’s first full year as Chicago mayor ends on a tragic note: The city marked its 500th homicide Thursday evening, making 2012 the deadliest year in the city since 2008.

Overall, Chicago homicides are at a historic low compared to decades past — 928 in 1991, for example. But the last time Chicago homicides topped 500 was in 2008, when the number was 513. Since then, killings had been falling. In 2011, there were 433 homicides.

Why homicide rates trend up or down is not easily explained by a single year and requires examining complex factors including systemic unemployment, economic disenfranchisement and easy access to weapons; and, specifically in Chicago, the dismantling of public housing that started two decades ago and has coincided with the closings of public schools in distressed neighborhoods.

“The public-housing and school policies did a lot to undermine the fabric of marginalized communities on the South and West Sides of Chicago. That unraveling of the fabric continues to drive the desperation, the depression, the self-medication that contributes to a lot of this violence,” says Lance Williams, assistant director of the Jacob C. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

School closings in impoverished neighborhoods and the increased push for privately operated charter schools became a major issue of contention during the public-teacher strike in September. The Emanuel administration has long said that while facing a ballooning budget deficit, it can’t afford to operate so many schools, especially those where student populations are dwindling.

Homicides in Chicago attracted national media attention early this summer when 7-year-old Heaven Sutton became the city’s 251st fatality, killed by a random bullet while operating her front-lawn candy stand on the city’s West Side. Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy blamed the growing violence on neighborhood gang factions, which they say are responsible for 80 percent of the shootings. Much of the action that the city has taken this year has tried to take down gangs.


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