By the third full day of the new year, homicide had claimed its third victim in Chicago.
To many Chicagoans, it was not just a reminder of the 506 murders that rocked the city in 2012. It was also a bitter harbinger of what many fear could happen in 2013: A murder rate that could match or even eclipse that of the previous year.
Chicago’s murder rate is widely considered to be fueled by the drug wars that are fought between the city’s network of gangs. The homicide rate has been largely confined to the city’s south and west areas, African-American bastions of Chicago.
But in 2012, the number of murders climbed, with homicides increasing by 16 percent over the previous year. Already, with 2013 under way and two homicides on New Year’s Day and another thereafter, the topic is being discussed in all sectors of the city’s Black community.
“We have a culture that is entrenched with a high level of violence and a gang culture," said Tio Hardiman, the director of CeaseFire, a nonprofit group that works to reduce violence among young people in the city’s largely African-American community.
“More than 65 percent of the murders in this city are Black-against-Black crimes,” Hardiman said, in an interview with BET.com. “We are constantly trying to get young people to think about the consequences of what they are doing. We can only hope that happens in 2013.”
One veteran of the Chicago Police Department, who spoke with BET.com on the condition that his name not be used, said that there was little reason for optimism.
“I don’t have any reason to believe that anything is going to change, since the police department hasn’t enacted anything different for 2013,” said the officer, who worked for many years in the police department’s homicide unit. “Also, the structure of what has caused the violence hasn’t changed. The drug trade is still feeding the violence and that hasn’t changed.”
Some Chicagoans said that they were not optimistic about the prospects for a reduction in homicides because they occur in largely African-American communities.
“I feel like it’s a problem that isn’t taken seriously,” said Nate Marshall, a native of the Chicago’s South Side, who is home for a semester break from his graduate studies at the University of Michigan.
“The murders are concentrated in certain areas of the city – the Black parts of the city,” Marshall said. “There are some people, many of them well-to-do people in power, who don’t even know there is a crime problem. That’s because the city is so segregated.”
Still, some in Chicago say that they have no choice but to believe that conditions will improve.
“We have to believe that things will change,” said the Rev. David Posley, an associate minister at the Salem Baptist Church on the South Side of Chicago. “We just have to find ways to reach out to more young people. We have to get out of the walls we’re familiar with. The bible tells us to have faith. And that’s exactly what we must do.”
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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)