It’s true that this year’s Chicago murder rate is unacceptable. But do you know what else is unacceptable? The murder rate that Chicagoans find acceptable.
Throughout the 2000s, we thought we were on a holiday from homicide. In 2004, Chicago experienced 448 murders, for a homicide rate of 15.65 per 100,000 residents. That was less than half the murder rate in 1990, at the height of the Crack Wars.
But it was still higher than the murder rate in 1929, the year of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, when Al Capone was the city’s crime kingpin and the streets were awash in blood as gangsters battled over illegal liquor sales during Prohibition. The 1920s saddled Chicago with international image for murder and violence that we still haven’t shaken off. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was so shocking it led the nation to reconsider whether Prohibition was worth the gang warfare it caused.
Here’s a list of historic murder rates, courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Chicago.
Here is a chart of murder rates from 1870 to 2008.
In 2010, then-Police Superintendent Jody Weis was crowing because our murder rate was the lowest since 1965. That year seems to be the benchmark for what constitutes peace in our streets, since that’s when the murder rate began rising again for the first time since Prohibition.
Americans seemed to have become inured to a certain level of violence. The mass murder at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., was an occasion for national soul-searching in 1999. Now, mass murder is an annual event. It happened again in Colorado last night, when 14 people were gunned down at a showing of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. It’ll happen again next year, in a high school or a shopping mall or a college campus.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs to promise us that he’ll make Chicago as safe as it was when Al Capone was on the loose. That’s the most we should accept.
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