A study of the city's murder rate shows an unlikely factor at the heart of the violence. Chicago's rate is three times that of New York not because of policing, but because of a lack of good, affordable housing.
chicagotribune.com

Building a way to stop murder

Sunday, June 1, 2003

 

By John M. Hagedorn.

. John M. Hagedorn is associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a senior research fellow at the Great Cities Institute

June 1, 2003

Why is Chicago so much more violent than New York City? For the first time since the days of Al Capone, Chicago's murder rate is three times higher than New York City's.

The mayor, like any good Chicagoan, has cause to be concerned. Why can't the police bring down our city's murder rate? Maybe our cops aren't as tough as New York's, or we don't use enough computers to target crime, or don't lock up enough criminals, or don't saturate the right areas with patrols, or don't do better community policing, or ...

What if the problem isn't the police at all?

I'm in the midst of a two-year study, funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, to investigate why Chicago's homicide rate hasn't fallen like New York City's. While we are still collecting data, Mayor Richard Daley's recent call for ideas to stop the violence has convinced me to join the discussion now.

Unlikely factor

Our preliminary findings suggest that the mayor might look at an unlikely factor--housing policy--to control homicide. But it's also important to understand how and why homicide varies in the U.S. and around the world.

First, Chicago's homicide rate (22 per 100,000 per year) is very serious, but not as bad as that of Detroit, St. Louis, or Gary, which have rates roughly double Chicago's. What is significant about Chicago's murder rate is that it has not fallen sharply as in New York and many other cities. Before we accept the popular view that Rudy Giuliani and William Bratton were responsible for New York's crime drop, we need to remember that similar drops have occurred in cities such as Boston, Houston, San Francisco and San Diego.

Each of those cities has a different policing style.

Chicago's murder rate is similar to Moscow's, which, along with much of Eastern Europe, has witnessed a torrent of gang-and drug-related homicides in the last decade.

Violence, we can conclude, is generally high in cities and areas that have undergone severe disruption of daily life, as in Eastern Europe. Albania, for example, according to the World Bank, has very high rates of violence, and a quarter of all of its young men are working in the drug trade. Wherever there are cities with desperate conditions and high rates of violence, as in Kingston, Jamaica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or Bombay, we also find groups of armed young men.

Whether they are paramilitaries, drug cartels, death squads, militant fundamentalists or gangs, these groups are a major obstacle to stopping the cycle of violence.

It is also apparent that where class differences within dominant groups is the main source of conflict, violence is usually sporadic and muted. High rates of persisting violence are almost always related to ethnic, racial or religious conflict.

The wide variation in rates of violence within ethnic groups debunks any notion that African-Americans, or Irish, or Hispanics are violence prone. Violence is a property of social structure, not people.

We can regrettably conclude, first, that Chicago's high rate of homicide is not amenable to quick change.

For example, Chicago differs from New York in our history as the world's leading manufacturing center. The black migration to the industrial Midwest was pulled by the needs of the factories and mills. African-Americans were over-concentrated in manufacturing, and de-industrialization hit black people especially hard.

Scholar Saskia Sassen says some world cities are rising and others declining.

Chicago is not among the cities with bleak futures, like Detroit or Gary. But its continuing high rates of violence may indicate similar underlying problems of manufacturing loss and of racial segregation. The collapse of manufacturing has led to demoralization in the Midwest as the industrial ladder of mobility, which worked for white ethnics, was snatched away from African-Americans.

Demoralization, in turn, often means violence.

This demoralization might also help explain the persistence of gangs in Chicago. Unlike New York City, which has seen gangs come and go over the decades, many of Chicago's African-American and Latino gangs have not gone away but have institutionalized over a half-century.

This persistence of armed young men of racial minorities involved with the drug economy makes Chicago similar to other high-violence cities around the globe.

While the economic and racial structure of Chicago may resist New York City-style reductions in homicide, this doesn't mean we are helpless.

We've seen that violence internationally occurs mainly in areas of devastation and disruption. Since the 1990s, housing policy in Chicago resulted in mass disruption of poor African-American communities, while in New York City poor communities have seen substantial investment in housing.

Mayor Richard M. Daley has been busy tearing down his father's housing projects. High-rise public housing was built to keep the black community segregated, and this policy played no small role in hiking Chicago's murder rate between 1960 and 1990.

Thousands displaced

Now the projects are coming down, and thousands of public-housing tenants are being displaced into all-black areas farther south and west. Displacement means new, not always friendly, surroundings; children negotiating new schools; and a loss of established networks of friends, jobs and support. For gangs, displacement often means violent attempts to take over drug markets in a new turf.

Chicago's uprooting of thousands of black people has no parallel in New York City.

Even more striking is the difference in the two cities' investment in housing in poor communities. The South Bronx, for example, had homicide rates as high as any area of Chicago. But from 1988 to 1997 New York City invested $1 billion--yes, that's a billion--in affordable housing in that area. While poverty rates stayed the same, housing improved, neighborhoods were cleaned up, and the murder rate plummeted.

Areas demographically similar to the South Bronx on the West and South Sides of Chicago have not seen such massive investment in affordable housing and their homicide rates rose in the 1990s.

Investment in housing means that residents have a stake in the neighborhood and more of them will work to keep it safe and clean. Drug use does not go away, but trafficking is driven out of sight and avoids violence. Broken windows are fixed, and the neighborhood can improve without becoming gentrified.

Have the failure of Chicago to invest in housing and its de facto policy of displacement of African-Americans contributed to Chicago's high homicide rate? It seems so, but there's much more to it.

However, I believe the routine solutions--community policing, more arrests for minor offenses, gang-loitering ordinances, or saturation patrols--aren't likely to have much impact on Chicago's homicide rate.

The policy I'd recommend to the mayor, if he asked, would be to saturate Lawndale, Englewood and Roseland not with police patrols, but with affordable housing. Isn't it worth a try? After all, it's a matter of life or death.

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The data cited in this article can be found at http://gangresearch.net/

And now look at what the New York Times has to say!

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