By Natalie Krebs and Lorraine Ma
CHICAGO -- It was rare news in a summer filled with frightening crime statistics, equally alarming headlines and a mayor and police superintendent on the defensive: For the month of July, killings in this city were down 11 percent from the same period last year, with the number of homicides for the month at 49.
But such news matters little to people like Shirley Askew, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side, whiling away days playing in the streets and city parks. And it means little when the overall homicide rate for the year is still up nearly 27 percent. Many children are scared; they’re kept indoors, and, in a very real sense, locked out of their childhoods.
Now 59, with four sons and four grandsons, Askew indeed worries about the increasing neighborhood violence that threatens local children’s safety. Just Thursday afternoon, not far from where Askew spoke with reporters, two 16-year-old boys were gunned down and another wounded.
“God knows I wouldn’t want to go back and be a child again,“ she said, “Boy, I just feel so bad for them, because they have nowhere to play, nowhere they can go to without somebody fighting and shooting everything up.”
Askew, who was selling snow cones outside a convenience store on North Avenue, said this summer seems more violent than the last because she hears about shootings just about every day. This environment is rough for children, she added, growing quiet as a young girl and her father approached the stand.
“These babies don’t have a chance,” Askew said, watching the pair walk away with their fruit punch flavored cone.
City officials put a good face on the crime numbers that were reported in the local media Thursday. But they acknowledged the city has a long way to go to halt the killings. Through the end of July there were 308 homicides in Chicago - still far above last year's total of 243 for the same period.
Strategies borrowed from the playbook that saw New York’s crime rate plummet from a high in the mid-1990s, known as the broken-windows program, have been implemented in some cases here. The police target even minor crimes to chip away at the more headline-grabbing murders that have so marred this summer.
Some residents say much of the violence is due to gang disputes in various pockets of the city. Michael Lee, 54, also from the West Side, said he hears shots once or twice a week.
“We’re wary about walking down the streets, sending our kids to the store and letting them out of the house,” he said.
Lake View High School student Destinee Davis, 17, said the July Fourth holiday seemed to mark the height of violence so far this summer, when she could not distinguish between fireworks and gunshots.
While Davis said it is difficult, with violence so rampant, to tell if this summer is any worse than previous years, she said she has witnessed a number of muggings. She said her cousin, who lives with Davis, has been jumped three times this year.
“It makes me scared to go out,” she said as she stood waiting for her bus.
Natalie Krebs and Lorraine Ma are reporters for The Chicago Bureau.
Photo from Law Enforcement Today.