Monday, January 2, 2017

My wife and I went to a wedding... Indianapolis last summer and were seated at a table with some people we didn't know. One of the couples was from a suburb of Cincinnati, I think, and their daughter was best friends with the bride or something. (We were there as guests of the groom.) They were a nice couple, although I could tell from some of their verbal tics and catty remarks about "Hillary" that they were Fox News-watching Republicans. Whatever. Like I said, they were nice enough people. At one point the husband asked me whereabouts in Chicago did we live. When I answered, "The city," he got a horrified look on his face. "B-but, not in the city, right?" "Yep," I replied. "The Near West Side. Are you familiar with Chicago?" He just sat there stunned, as if someone had slapped him in the face. So I went into my canned speech about how my wife and I moved back to the city in 2014 after 22 years in the suburbs and how Chicago is nicer than it's ever been and how the long-term crime rate is actually dramatically down and blah, blah, blah. (If you're a regular reader of this blog I'm sure you're tired of hearing me go on and on about that. Sorry.)

But this morning the Times had a story from the Associated Press, "Chicago Ends Year With 762 Killings, the Most in 2 Decades," which takes one year, 2016, all out of context. Again, sorry to repeat all this stuff, but here goes:

Average annual murders in Chicago per decade:

1970s: 827.5
1980s: 738.1
1990s: 824
2000s: 550.3
2010s (so far): 502

See a trend? (If you're a more "visual" person, it's also in that graph at the top. Or you can read more here.)

But here's the point of this post: buried in the ninth and tenth paragraphs of that AP article is this (my emphasis):

The bulk of the fatal and nonfatal shootings, which jumped to 3,550 last year from 2,426 in 2015, occurred in only five neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides, all poor and predominantly black areas where gangs are most active.

The police said the shootings in those areas generally were not random, with more than 80 percent of the victims having previously been identified by the police as more susceptible because of their gang ties or past arrests.

Now, I don't know how the piece defines "neighborhoods," but if they are five of the 77 community areas of Chicago, that's only six percent of the city. In other words, this article isn't about the other 72 neighborhoods, or 94 percent of the city. So it's a little misleading, right? And if "80 percent of the victims" aren't "random," but are actually gang members or have been previously arrested, then the rest of us -- statistically, at least -- are probably pretty safe, right? (I wish I could assure my sister, that, yes, you're probably going to be "okay" strolling down Michigan Avenue.)

It's funny, this whole meme about Chicago being so "unsafe" has really taken on a life of its own. I suspect it's been pushed most aggressively by right-wing outlets like Fox News to discredit a) Democrats, who generally govern big cities; b) President Obama, who, along with his wife, hails from the Windy City; and c) let's face it: "minorities," who live here and seem to be the victims of all this violence.

Again, when Julie and I moved here two and a half years ago we couldn't get over how nice the city had become since we moved out in 1992. It particularly vexed me that our experience was so at odds with all the crime statistics we kept hearing. But now I get it: the stats have been taken out of context and really affect only a small part of the city and a certain subset of individuals.

Now don't get me wrong: one murder is too many. And I'd love to see those numbers go down; I'm tired of hearing all this trash-talk about Chicago. But, please, let's keep it in perspective. When I say that Chicago is nicer than it's ever been, I'm not just "talking my position." It's true!

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