Wednesday, September 7, 2016

CNN had a piece yesterday...

...titled "500 homicides. 9 months. 1 American city." It was about, you guessed it, homicides in Chicago. The article begins by saying (all emphasis mine):

Chicago's 500th homicide of the year happened over Labor Day weekend, according to the Chicago Tribune.

That number carries a lot of weight for the city -- not just in quantity, but in meaning: 2016 is now the deadliest year in two decades.

That's not even remotely true, as the chart above shows. (In case you can't read it, prior to 2003 the city averaged well over 600 murders a year. "Two decades" ago, in 1996, Chicago had 796 homicides. Click here for a closer look.)

To support its claims, the piece prints a few charts going all the way back to 1985.

Why 1985? Why not 1974, when homicides peaked at 970? That's almost twice the rate of today! Does CNN have some kind of agenda here?

Let's look at homicides in Chicago by decade.

1970s: 8,275
1980s: 7,381
1990s: 8,240
2000s: 5,352

Now take that scary "500" number in the title of the CNN piece and multiply it by ten -- you get 5,000, of course, which would be less than any of the previous four decades. (And even that number would be high; the average for the first six years of this decade is "only" 458.)

Now, I know what you're thinking: those charts in the CNN piece talk about the homicide "rate," not the absolute level. And CNN projects the rate of homicide in Chicago as 24.1 per 100,000 people. Is that high? Is it on the rise? Well, look at this table:

Chicago Homicide Rates per 100,000 residents, 1870-2000.

1970: 24
1980: 28.7
1990: 32.9
2000: 22.1

I guess that 24.1 number isn't such an outlier, is it? (The table doesn't give figures for decades, just individual years.)

So maybe this CNN piece is just a little disingenuous. I mean, homicides in Chicago are still too high, but it's hard to argue that they are on the rise. Couldn't you just as effectively argue that homicides in Chicago are in a long-term downward trend?

I met a nice man from Indianapolis at a wedding last weekend who couldn't -- just couldn't -- believe I lived in Chicago "with all that gun violence." When I cited some of the figures above I could tell he just didn't believe me. I tried to tell him the reality was different from the narrative in the "media," but I don't think I got through to him. He's probably reading that CNN piece right now and wondering about that nutty guy from Chicago he met at that wedding. How on earth could anyone actually live there?

1 comment:

James said...

I agree. I walked and took the CTA all over Chicago for over 10 years and almost never felt unsafe. Chicago, like many cities, is schizophrenic in terms of its wealth distribution and it seems that both the victims and perpetrators of these crimes mainly come from distressed areas.
In terms of the report, it seems to be a part of an information age trend that I like to call the "rhetoric of data". While data gathering has gotten far more vast and sophisticated it seems that the interpretation of the information is the same as it was before the digital age. It seems to be human nature for people to interpret events in ways that fit their preexisting world views.
That said, I don't really understand what the media has against Chicago. Must be that doggone east coast elite!