Toni Irving writes in Tuesday’s Huffington Post that her partnership, Get In Chicago, is getting tens of millions of dollars and wants suggestions for “a fresh approach” to replace old, failed and dubious campaigns in “tackling… the epidemic of… juvenile violence.”
But there begins the problem: there’s no such thing as “juvenile violence,” unless we’d be comfortable with notions like “black violence” or “Islamic violence.” Associating violent crime with an entire demographic group is bigotry, and it guarantees limited, futile strategies.
Irving reiterates the same assumptions as failed anti-violence campaigns, but wants a different result. She blames youth for crime that damages Chicago’s image, and focuses on redirecting younger teens as “our best chance of success.”
But we appreciate her asking, and we have some definitely new suggestions:
1. Stop talking about “juvenile violence” and start talking about “violence.” Chicago Police Department reports indicate that juveniles commit only a small fraction of violent crimes, including fewer than 10% of murders. Chicago adults in their 20s cause more violence than youths, as do those in their 30s. Violence by youths about equals violence by Chicagoans in their 40s.
Over the last 5 years, Chicago police reports show 196 youths under age 17 were murdered and 67 youths that age were arrested for murder. Those are tragedies, even an “epidemic.” But, the same reports show an even larger epidemic of violence among Chicagoans age 36-45—the age to be parents—which suffered 211 murders and 145 murder arrests. Ages 17-35 are even worse, and 46-55 nearly as dangerous and endangered by homicide, as youths are.
In fixating only on “youth violence,” interests ignore the 90%+ of violent crime committed by adults (according to the FBI), and the 97% of firearms deaths that involve grownups (Centers for Disease Control). That’s too limited a purview.
2. Tell the truth! Chicago as a city, including Chicago youth, are dramatically less violent and murderous today than at any time than in at least four decades. These must be terribly disappointing realities, because Irving and many others continually misrepresent Chicago murder levels and youth crime as worse today than ever (even as they lament Chicago’s poor image).
Good policy begins with good information, led by honestly representing crime reports, including on homicide. Chicago’s 414 murders in 2013 (down from 506 in 2012) should be contrasted with 633 murders in 2000, 928 in 1990, 959 in 1980, 824 in 1970, and 540 in 1925. Chicago is safer from serious violence today than at any time reliably measured.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s statement last year deploring current violence levels and telling Chicago students that there “really wasn’t that much violence back in her day” would be a shock to families and friends surviving the 336 Chicago school-aged youths and the 5,257 adults murdered during the six years (1976-81) when she attended middle and high school. By contrast, police reports for the most recent six years available (2006-11) show 229 Chicago school-age youth were murdered—certainly, a terrible toll, but nothing like the past.
Back in Ms. Obama’s day 35 years ago, Chicago police reports show, teens under age 20 accounted for 40% of a much larger violence epidemic. Today, those under age 20 account for less than a quarter of the city’s much diminished violent crime. However, Ms. Irving is right that these declines cannot be connected to specific anti-violence strategies; they seem to be largely generational.
3. Confront domestic, not just street, violence. Chicago police receive more than 35,000 domestic violence calls annually, one every 15 minutes. Domestic violence, overwhelmingly inflicted by parents and household adults with severe drug, alcohol, and crime afflictions themselves, directly victimizes thousands of Chicago children and teenagers and breeds later violence by youths and adults. That’s why narrowly focusing on youth, while pleasing, is too limited a strategy.
4. Confront poverty. Violent crime rates are closely tied to neighborhood stresses, a reality first established by University of Chicago sociologists’ innovative crime mappings in the 1920s and repeatedly confirmed since. Violence is not a feature of race or age but may appear so since African Americans and young people are more afflicted by poverty.
5. Be unpopular. Authorities refuse to talk about risky, challenging topics such as epidemic 30-age or 40-age violence, domestic violence, real crime trends, and poverty because they win boundless political and media applause from simplistic finger-pointing campaigns singling out “youth.” That’s why the feel-good ideas they advance can't be shown to work.
Unfortunately, the only thing varied interests usually can agree on is to scapegoat powerless demographics like youth for vexing problems, and the blaming further devolves into lying and self-promotion. Breaking the cycle of leadership dysfunction is crucial to proactively addressing violence and related problems—or at least not interfering with positive natural trends