Violence in Chicago: Problems, Debate and Possible Solutions

Through a series of reports, NBC 5 dove into the root causes of Chicago's violence, explored the efforts of police working to reverse the course and heard from activists on the front lines of the crisis

The numbers of carjackings, shootings and homicides have risen in Chicago, leaving residents on edge and prompting city officials to generate new solutions to tackle the city's violence epidemic.

Chicago has reported 2,600 shootings this year, up 10 percent from the same time last year, according to data from police.

As of late September, 602 slayings have occurred in 2021, compared with 580 during the same period in 2020, citywide statistics showed.

But how did Chicago get to this point?

The answer is far from clear-cut, but one root cause of violence, some say, is disinvestment in communities. Others have pointed to the role of social media and more relaxed gun laws in neighboring Indiana.

NBC 5 explored the complex problem of violence in Chicago and examined the debate over criminal justice reform, visited a federal facility to learn the process and challenges of tracing guns and met with those out walking city streets, hoping to inspire others and make Chicago a more peaceful city.

A Former Chicago Gang Member's Second Chance and the Man Who Made it Possible

Jermaine Rhodes never saw a better option.

His relatives were gang members, so naturally, he became involved, too.

"I started selling drugs in school at first," the Chicago resident explained. "Then, I moved to the corner around 14 or 15. And from there life got kind of good for a while. You get all the money, all the girls, all the clout, you get to drive nice cars."

Then, the bad part.

Read the complete story of how Rhodes found a new purpose in life here.

Jermaine Rhodes' relatives were gang members, so he became involved too, at a young age. It wasn't until years later when his life changed forever, thanks to a chance encounter. NBC 5's Allison Rosati has his story.

Social Media's Stark Effect on Violence in Chicago

While Chicago's violence is still driven by a combination of gangs, guns and drugs, it's also being fueled by social media.

Lance Williams, a professor at Northeastern University, said it "kind of puts conflict on steroids."

"Social media exacerbates the problem, because what it does is expands the platform for interpersonal beef," said Williams, one of the authors of "The Fracturing of Gangs and Violence in Chicago," a report from the Great Cities Institute.

While gangs were once known for marking their territory with graffiti on bricks and mortar, nowadays they do so with posts online.

"People feel like they have to kind of protect their integrity and respond, and a lot of times, they respond with violence or killing somebody," activist Tio Hardiman said.

Click here to read the full story and response from Chicago police.

Crime in Chicago is being driven by guns and drugs, but also social media. NBC 5's Charlie Wojciechowski explains how it happens and what police are doing to stop it.

Longstanding Impact of Disinvestment in Communities

One Chicago community advocate remembers West Woodlawn as it was in the 1950s and 60s - a vibrant and bustling community.

Siri Hibbler, the CEO of the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce, paints a similar picture of 1970s East Garfield Park.

“We had we had bowling alleys, skating rinks,” she said. “Everything that a kid wanted to do, they could do in Garfield Park, they could do on the West Side of Chicago.”

Now, both communities see many vacant lots.

But what happened?

Click here to learn about the causes and the impacts still being felt across the city.

Disinvestment in city neighborhoods ultimately leads to poverty, which studies show is often a root cause of violence. In our ongoing “Violence in Chicago” series, Marion Brooks examines this critical issue.

The Debate Over Illinois' Pursuit for Criminal Justice Reform

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a "landmark" criminal justice and police reforms bill into law earlier this year, bringing an end to cash bail in Illinois and implementing new "police accountability" protocols.

But how will the reforms effect Chicago’s longstanding violence problem – if at all?

The debate over how Illinois legislation should combat Chicago's gun violence problem continues to be a debate across the city. NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern reports.

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx has called the changes "step in the right direction."

“Right now we’re well positioned with the law, we really just need to work on having the community feel safe to come and help us solve these problems,” she said.  

Read the full story here.

Young Chicagoans Share Heartbreak, Frustration of Growing Up With Violence

In this edition of our special “Violence in Chicago” series, NBC 5’s Stefan Holt sits down with a group of Chicago teens to discuss the struggles they face on a daily basis, and the challenges they face as loved ones and friends are hurt, or even killed, in shootings in the city.

For some Chicago teens, gunfire has claimed the lives of friends, family members and so much of their youth. NBC 5's Stefan Holt sat down with a group of young men who grew up in Englewood for their perspective on the city's violence epidemic and what needs to be done.

Meet the 'Violence Interrupters:' Street Outreach Workers Trying to Change Lives and Spread Hope

A street outreach group called Violence Interrupters travels Chicago streets attempting to halt bloodshed throughout the city. NBC 5's Regina Waldroup reports.
NBC 5 went out with outreach groups in Chicago to see firsthand what it's like as they try to prevent the influx of violence that takes place in the city - one night at a time. Regina Waldroup reports.

How Crime Guns Are Traced in the US: One Page at a Time

The process of tracing every single firearm used in a crime in the U.S. goes through a facility in West Virginia that houses millions of paper records of gun sales – so many that shipping containers were brought in for storage over concerns the floor might collapse – that staff page through one at a time as they trace thousands of guns each day, all while prohibited from creating any kind of searchable database of the information within those records.

The facility is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Tracing Center, located in Martinsburg, West Virginia, a city of about 17,000 people in the Shenandoah Valley.

Head here for a complete look at the process and challenges faced by ATF agents.

The process of tracing every single firearm used in a crime in the U.S. goes through a facility in West Virginia that houses millions of paper records of gun sales that staff page through one-by-one. Take a behind-the-scenes look at the process with NBC 5 Investigates’ Phil Rogers.

Feds Willing to Bring Parallel Charges in Push to Target Illegal Guns

Federal authorities in Chicago are targeting gun traffickers with a “strike force” unveiled earlier this year – and they say they’re willing to supersede local decisions with additional federal charges if they believe it’s warranted.

“If you look at the violent crime going on in Chicago, we have a shooting cycle to disrupt,” said Kristen de Tineo, the special agent in charge of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Chicago.

federal agents have always worked to get illegal guns off the street, but Chicago is one of several cities where the effort kicked into high gear with new strike forces this summer. NBC 5 Investigates' Phil Rogers reports.

In July, the Department of Justice and ATF announced strike forces in Chicago and four other major metropolitan areas across the U.S., promising enhanced, sustained coordination with each city’s police department to target gun trafficking in areas both where guns are illegally purchased and where they are ultimately used to commit crimes.

Click here for the full story about how the effort to target gun cases has intensified in recent years.

Where Police Recover the Most Guns in Chicago

Chicago police are on track to recover over 12,000 guns this year, a record high and more than New York City and Los Angeles combined.

But those numbers look very different depending on where you are in the city. And even as more guns have been taken off the streets, shootings have continued to rise compared to last year.

Data provided by Chicago police shows 8,229 guns were recovered across the city by the end of August, with four more months left in the year. That figure marks a 19.2% increase in guns recovered compared to the same time period in 2020.

Chicago police are on track to recover over 12,000 guns this year, a record high and more than New York City and Los Angeles combined. NBC 5 Investigates’ Phil Rogers reports.

Click here for the full story.

The Importance of Mentorships: Helping Kids and Teens Make Better Decisions

Rob White was a gang member and spent time in prison. Now, he spends his time on the streets of Roseland, helping young men get off on the right foot. NBC 5's Christian Farr has the story.
As violence inundates some Chicago neighborhoods, several groups have made it their mission to protect young people and save lives. NBC 5's Christian Farr reports.

As Children Die in Chicago, Some Ask: Where Is The Outrage?

Annette Freeman will never forget where she was October 13, 1992. It was a day that changed her life and shook Chicago in profound ways.

Annette Freeman will never forget where she was October 13, 1992. It was a day that changed her life and shook Chicago in profound ways. NBC 5 Investigates’ Phil Rogers reports.

"I will never forget it was Tuesday and they had just gone back to school, it was the first day back," she said. "He was like, 'I don't want to go to school today,' and I said, 'You know you don't miss school!'"

Seconds later, Freeman's 7-year-old son Dantrell Davis was hit in the head by a sniper's bullet as she walked him to the Jenner School across the street from their home in the Cabrini-Green housing project.

Freeman said she quickly realized there was nothing she could do to save her son.

"The first bullet is what hit Danny," she remembered. "That first was - Danny getting hit in his cheek. And as quick as it started is as quick as it ended."

But 29 years later, children Dantrell's age and even younger continue to die in Chicago. And his mother asks why so few people remember their names.

In a suburban apartment, one Chicago-area man is trying to do what he can. For safety reasons, he asked that NBC 5 refer to him only by his first name, Steve. But on his website,, he has made it his mission to document every fatal shooting in the United States.

"Our aim is to humanize every gun violence victim, to make sure every victim's story is told," he said. "Right now we have 87,000 pages for 87,000 victims on the site from the past six years."

Steve does not differentiate. Some are victims of violent crime. Others, crimes of passion. There are accidental shootings. And suicides. The common thread is that all died from gunshots.

"It's a lot of stories, a lot of tragedies, a lot of senseless losses," he says. "Even if you consider just the homicides - 40 to 45 a day - it's shocking, right?"

Steve told NBC 5 his site sees as many as 20,000 visitors a day, many of them family members or friends of victims. He has memorialized multiple members of the same family. And just to keep up with the deaths, he has a stable of volunteers helping to update the stories.

Find the full story here.

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