Updated Aug 14, 2018

The deadliest city: Behind Chicago’s segregated shooting sprees

While its homicide rate is not the highest in the U.S., Chicago has consistently had more total killings than any other U.S. city — with 27 people killed since the beginning of the month.

Why it matters: Racial segregation, wealth inequality, gangs and the inability of law enforcement to solve crimes have fueled the gun violence epidemic — and a handful of minority, impoverished neighborhoods have received the brunt of the impact.

Data: Chicago Police Department via Chicago Data Portal, U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 2016, 5-year estimates. Notes: Homicide data is from Jan. 1, 2001 through July 31, 2018; income data from 2016 was not available for Census Tract 804, so 2015 data was used. Graphic: Harry Stevens/Axios

Gun-related homicides this year have actually dropped since the spikes in 2016 and 2017. But 2018 still has the third highest number of homicides of the past 15 years for the city.

The big picture: Inequality

Chicago is flourishing economically, with a record-low unemployment rate of 3.8% and a third of its city workers making at least $100,000. But the wealth is not equally distributed over the starkly segregated neighborhoods — and neither is the violence.

  • Lack of resources and opportunities often lead young people in poor communities to turn to violence, community leaders and gun regulation advocates tell Axios.
  • This is evident in the 12 poor, minority neighborhoods which account for 50% of Chicago's shootings — often attributed to gang activity — according to a study by Northwestern University.

Between the lines: Where it hits hardest

  • There were 215 shootings in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago in the first 7 months of the year — almost 12% of the total number of shootings in the city during the same time period, according to data from the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and others.
  • Adam Alonso, the executive director of BUILD Chicago, told Axios that children in neighborhoods like Austin walk out of the house with the belief "they might not make it back home."
  • The median income in the majority-African-American neighborhood is $20,000 less than the median income for Chicago, and almost a third of the neighborhood's residents live below the poverty line, according to City-Data.com.

The gun violence problem will get solved once the economic and racial equality problems are solved, said Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council against Handgun Violence.

"Nothing stops a bullet like an opportunity."
— Colleen Daley

By the numbers: The median wage for whites was $44,758 in 2016. African-Americans made less than half of that, at $20,727.

  • 34% of African-Americans in Chicago live in poverty, compared to 21% for Chicago overall, per the Census Bureau.

Unsolved crime

Not only has violent crime skyrocketed over the past couple of years, but Chicago police are increasingly unable to locate and arrest the offenders.


The Chicago Police Department recovered 7,000 guns per year that had been illegally owned or associated with a crime between 2013 and 2016, according to a report published by the mayor's office.

  • That's six times as many recovered guns per resident as New York and almost twice as many as Los Angeles, according to the report.
  • However, it's illegal to sell or distribute guns in Chicago. And only 40% of the guns recovered came from areas of Illinois where gun regulations are more lax, according to the report.
  • Another 21% of guns came from Indiana, where gun regulations are among the weakest in the nation.

What they're doing

BUILD and other community groups are working to combat the violence, as they tell Axios. Many have organized gatherings, including block parties and picnics, to bring community members back into the neighborhood to rebuild their hope.

"People outside of the city don't see the things groups like ours do. There are more positive stories here than what you see."
— Alonso

Go deeper: There are organizations with members who are dedicating their lives to making life in Chicago better for those in poverty.

Correction: This story has been updated to note that a third of city employees earn at least $100,000, not a third of all residents.

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