Chicago Crime Wave Claims Youth

For second year in row, surge in students killed by gun violence.

April 23, 2008 — -- Whether because of gang turf battles, warm weather, reduced funding for outreach programs or teenage temper tantrums, violence is claiming more of Chicago's youth.

More than a third of the victims of this past weekend's explosion of murder and mayhem in the city were Chicago Public School students, although none of the incidents took place in school. Of the 38 victims of shooting and stabbing, nine of whom died, 13 were students, according to Chicago police.

The violence didn't end Sunday -- two teens were shot and two teens were stabbed, one of them fatally, Monday night.

With two months left in the school year, the 21 fatal shootings of young people is on pace to match last year's total of 24. That would mark the second year in a row of alarming levels of violence among schoolchildren -– in the previous two years (2004-2005 and 2005-2006), there were only eight and seven gun fatalities, respectively, according to Chicago Public Schools.

"In previous years, we didn't get into the double digits like this," said a spokesman for city schools. "Last year was an anomaly and this year seems to be at the same pace."

Teenagers in Chicago are 10 times more likely to be the victims of gun violence than Illinois youngsters living outside the city, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. And more than 650 of them were shot and killed between 2002 and 2006.

Until this fatal weekend, the murder rate had declined slightly, with 87 homicides during the first three months of this year, compared with 88 during the same period in 2007.

To highlight its new campaign to stem the violence, the newspaper printed its Tuesday front page in reverse, with the bold headline, "Stop the Violence."

The police blamed both gang battles between competing factions of the Gangster Disciples gang and the warmer spring weather for the uptick in crime.

"You just have too many guns, gangs, too may weapons out there," Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis told reporters, noting that murders usually peak in the summer and drop in the winter.

In 2005, for instance, 108 were murdered in June and July compared with 47 murdered in December and January.

"What we're asking parents to do is know where your children are," Mayor Richard M. Daley told a news conference. "It's going to be a long summer, and parents better capture the responsibility."

The surge in violence is especially confounding to criminologists, because the city is one of only two cities, along with Washington, D.C., in the country with a ban on handguns.

"For five years since they enacted the ban, they've made this effort to limit the number of guns available, but it doesn't seem to have an effect," Chicago Crime Commission President Jim Wagner told "It has not stopped gang members from getting their guns out of state and bringing them back in."

Amid Cops, Shots Ring Out

The recent outbreak of violence did not surprise veteran officer Ron Rufo.

Five weeks ago, he was stationed outside Crane High School, the scene of rising tensions, when a fight broke out. Despite the presence of dozens of police officers brought in to stabilize the situation, the incident ended in fatal gunshots.

"We saw a jacket fly in the air, and while we were going over there, about 20 yards away, we heard shots ring out," said Rufo.

"All the kids ran and there was one young man shot in the upper chest who was lying by a fence. He was shallow bleeding, and he couldn't say a word. He died right there by the fence half a block away from the school."

What instigated the violence? A dispute over a $150 baseball cap decorated with a watch, according to Rufo.

After the killing of 18-year-old Ruben Ivy, the police began escorting students to and from schools, but it hasn't seemed to help abate the violence.

"It doesn't seem to be getting any better," Rufo said. "So many of these kids are angry today. While you used to have fights that involved verbal assaults or fisticuffs, now you're talking about a knife or a gun."

Outreach workers and youth advocates also blame a reduction in state funding for social programs.

Last August, state lawmakers cut $460 million from the budget, including $6 million for CeaseFire, which worked with gang members to prevent violence.

"We work the streets at night and interrupt what's happening just like you interrupt the transmission of any infectious disease," said director Dr. Gary Slutkin, a World-Health-Organization-trained doctor who worked on global epidemics for years.

Before the cutbacks, the group worked with 800 gang members, many of them teenagers, but now they have only enough staff to work with a few dozen, Slutkin said.

"Like in Iraq, where the Sunnis go one way and the Shiites go another, what you're dealing with in Chicago is a very dynamic situation," he said. "If the leadership of one group changes, it's not as relevant as the fact that the violence is normalized in a lot of these communities."

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