Screaming Headlines, Hype and PR Stunts Cloud Picture of Youth Violence in Chicago

By Eric Ferkenhoff and Maryam Jameel 

Tallying Chicago’s violence during the first half of 2012, including a 39 percent jump in murders, it can be difficult to get what criminologist Tracy Siska is talking about. True, the streets are bloodied by gang warfare, said Siska, head of the Chicago Justice Project, an independent, non-profit research group that analyzes criminal justice data. The numbers don’t lie; there had been 260-plus murders through the end of June, up 72 over the same period last year. And overnight Tuesday, two girls 12, and 13, became the latest child victims of the gunfire here. Neither were thought to be intended targets, but rather were victims of errant gunfire just days after the release of a University of California Davis study showing the prevalence of stray-bullet victims.

But Siska has argued much of the media is playing the hype game, skewing reality for Chicagoans or observers by screaming with headlines about more city children getting murdered this public school year than any year since 2008 – the first full year of the recession – and countless stories of overnight mayhem suffered in many Chicago neighborhoods. There has been a parade of stories – ones Siska would agree should and must be told.

Stray Bullets Injured Hundreds in One Year, Study Finds

More than 300 people in the United States were struck by stray bullets between March 2008 and February 2009, often from shootings unconnected to the victims, according to a new study by researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis. Published in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, the study calculated the frequency of stray-bullet shootings during an 11-month period – a phenomenon, according to researchers, that resulted in at least 317 injuries. Garen Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis conducted the research, which was partially funded by the California Wellness Foundation and the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation. Using data collected from news alert services such as Google Alerts, in addition to GunPolicy.org archives, Wintemute and his colleagues tracked stories containing the term “stray bullet” for nearly one year, ultimately counting 284 shootings in which people were injured or killed by stray bullets. The study defines a stray-bullet shooting any instance in which a bullet escapes the immediate scene of the shooting and results in the injury of at least one person either by directly striking the victim or through associated “secondary mechanisms,” such as injuries sustained from glass shattered by a bullet.