I recently viewed the mini-documentary entitled Chi Raq (watch below).

The 13-minute film shares stories from Chicago residents who are or have been affiliated with gangs as well as the perspective of those who have been affected by the violence plaguing the city.

Based on the testimonies in the film and of those I’ve read about in the past, the consensus seems to be that poverty and unemployment, in addition to a conscious effort to concentrate individuals affected by those circumstances in one area, are to blame.

There are also some who blame music and other societal messages, but this is a notion that I can’t fully support.  I believe that art imitates life more so than the reverse.  This doesn’t mean that the relationship isn’t cyclical and that there aren’t instances where the opposite is true, however.  But an issue of this magnitude can’t be the fault of what’s in our headphones as much as what’s in our heads and in our wallets.

Chicago has over 100,000 (known) gang members that are largely blamed for the violence in the city, but are they solely responsible for the environment within which they reside, or are they a symptom of a larger, systemic problem?  HBO’s VICE shed some light on this in a segment entitled Chiraq that premiered this past summer.

Researchers have consistently found that poverty correlates with violence, but there are many factors that contribute to poverty.

Like many others, I come down on the side of poverty, unemployment, and a lack of education being mostly to blame for this enormous issue.  Interestingly enough, they are all related to one another.  This means that whatever is done to alleviate violence in our communities will have to take a multifaceted approach.

Regardless of the disputes over the reasons behind the violence, it is clear that there is a gaping imbalance in Chicago and other violent-prone areas that has existed for many years.  Something must be done.

Murders in Chicago by year:

1928: 399 1965: 395 1973: 864 1974: 970 1988: 660
1989: 742 1990: 851 1991: 927 1992: 943 1993: 855
1994: 931 1995: 828 1996: 796 1997: 761 1998: 704
1999: 643 2000: 633 2001: 667 2002: 656 2003: 601
2004: 453 2005: 451 2006: 471 2007: 448 2008: 513
2009: 459 2010: 436 2011: 435 2012: 516 2013: 359

Source: 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis Report via Wikipedia 

If there’s anything positive that can be taken from this chart, it’s the current total for this year.  One can only hope that this number will stagnate and not approach the toll seen in previous years.

Watch Chi Raq below.

Side Notes:  The Windy City isn’t the only area experiencing high levels of violence.  According to the FBI, violent crime increased nationwide in 2012 – the first time in six years.  On top of that, Chicago isn’t even the most violent city in the U.S. as many – including myself – are led to think.  That label was placed on Flint, MI in 2012 for the third consecutive year.  And the fact is that here are many other cities that are more dangerous per capita than Chicago.  Mason Johnson detailed this nicely in Chicago Not Actually ‘Murder Capital’ Of, Well, Anything that appeared on Chicago’s CBS Local website in September.

If you’re interested in seeing an activist’s perspective, check out Chiraq “Ground Zero”.

For past insights into factors contributing to violence (that still holds true): The Cost of Inequality: Metropolitan Structure and Violent Crime

What are your reactions to Chi Raq, and the issue of violence in urban communities?  What can realistically be done to bring about positive, lasting change?

Miya W.

Living, working, and writing anonymously in the Chi.

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