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Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013

* HBO’s “Vice” program did something last month that I haven’t seen much in any local reporting. Instead of just interviewing Chicago crime victims, social and violence experts and the police, the documentarians also interviewed teenage gangsters.

I watched the documentary, entitled “Chiraq,” when it first came out and was quite disturbed, but also incredibly fascinated. You just don’t see stuff like this.

* Fair warning, there is a lot of profanity in this video. Don’t play the video at work if you’ll get in trouble for that sort of thing. There’s also a lot of hyperbole, as we’ll discuss in a minute. Keeping all that in mind, make sure to watch it

* From Chicagoist

Toward the end of VICE’s segment on Chicago, the narrator says “younger kids in Chicago … have so internalized their situation by proudly calling their city Chiraq and themselves soldiers or savages.”

The narrator goes on to say “the South Side of Chicago is basically a failed state within the borders of the U.S.”

We’re not sure what it is about “Chiraq” that bothers us. Perhaps it’s that it implies there are two sides to the war, both suffering fatalities. The last time we checked the innocent bystanders are not armed soldiers fighting a war, but neither are the civilians in Iraq. Perhaps “Chiraq” is oversimplifying the problem. There aren’t two sides, and this isn’t a war with a definitive end.

There are plenty of disturbingly dramatic and chilling moments in the documentary.

But one thing that stuck out for me was the lack of trauma centers on the South Side to deal with the shootings. As a result, victims are dying because they can’t get treatment in a timely manner.

* So far, the Sun-Times has ignored the documentary. The Tribune made passing reference the other day

The term has been tossed around on social media and even has its own Twitter handle. It has been uttered in an HBO documentary series that explored urban violence. The Urban Dictionary added it as an entry last year, defining the word as a way to summarize Chicago’s violent history. There are even T-shirts that boast the label.

“Why we make that comparison, is because very, very unfortunately, the term is true,” said Malcolm London, a 20-year-old spoken-word artist from Austin. London said he heard the moniker used in everyday language, but it didn’t really strike him until he saw it printed on shirts.

“It’s a scary term, but it’s a true term. Coming from the West Side, it’s not a joke. The sad part is, people who may not be here, or live here, may use the term to glorify the violence. But no one enjoys living in a war zone.”

This isn’t the first time Chicago has been compared to a war zone. In the 1980s, the Wall Street Journal dubbed the city “Beirut on the Lake” because of political infighting.

Once again, missing from that article were the voices of the combatants. You may not care about those people, and maybe they shouldn’t be glorified by giving them coverage. But how else are we gonna find out what they’re thinking and how they live and why they do what they do? “Chiraq” is a somewhat flawed start, but at least it’s a start.

Maybe some media outlets should send some experienced war reporters into the hot zones and tell us what’s really going on.

* On the other hand, Eric Zorn did a good job in a recent column quelling the hype on the city’s murder rate

Chicago had the most murders of any city in America last year, 506, and was the site in late January of a heartbreaking killing that made international news — when Hadiya Pendleton, 15, a King College Prep honor student, was mistakenly gunned down in an attempted gang hit just days after she’d returned from performing in Washington, D.C., at presidential inaugural festivities.

But even with its 17 percent spike in murders in 2012, Chicago was far from the deadliest city in America. Our murder rate, 18.5 per 100,000 residents according to preliminary FBI data, was 21st in the nation, better than Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans and Detroit, to name a few.

Chicago also wasn’t even close to the most dangerous city in America last year, ranking 43rd in overall per capita violent crime in preliminary data.

Further, we’re not experiencing an “epidemic” of murder, per the talking heads. Nor is the city’s homicide rate “spiral(ing) out of control,” as a guest essayist on these pages put it Wednesday.

He also listed per capita crime rates for dozens of cities that were higher than Chicago’s last year. Included on that list: Rockford and Springfield. Rockford’s media appears to get it. I’m not sure there’s much of a recognition in Springfield, however.

* Related…

* King L Explains The Term “Chiraq”: “Iraq, people like you go over, things blowing up, like that’s natural,” he added. “It ain’t natural to see [something] just blow up in the middle of the street. That’s not natural in Chicago, you don’t get used to that.”

* Black Caucus discusses urban violence at Chicago State

* Emergency Summit On Urban Violence Opens In Chicago

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Been There - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 12:14 pm:

    ===the lack of trauma centers on the South Side===
    I see more Chicago cops escorting or transporting to Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn than I do the local OL & Evergreen police. Including Little Company Hospital in EP (which is not a trauma center but gets the lower level wounds) my guess is there are about 20 trips to these suburban hospitals by the Chicago police and fire department daily. Maybe more. It’s good for the local restaurants if the cops happen to have a break coming up. But it has to take many more precious minutes in the ambulance to make it to these hospitals from the south side compared to heading over to the Univ of Chicago like they use to do.

  2. - Grandson of Man - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 12:36 pm:

    The good news is that homicide rates have been trending downward since the late 1990s. I would be real pleased if one or more drugs were legalized, so that police have more resources to combat violence–also the courts and jails.

  3. - Loop Lady - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 12:39 pm:

    HBO is a great cable network. Very cutting edge and in your face informative. Love their documentaries.

    I know you cut my comment the other day about civil unrest and the class war, but I fear that the day will come when there will be violence in the streets over income disparities and the lack of opportunity for those on the low end of the socioeconomic ladder.

    I am tired of hearing about the senseless murder of Chicagoans on the west and south sides caught in the crossfire on the evening news. We all lose when this type of violence becomes the norm. I live two miles from Austin and have seen violence spill over into the western suburbs many times. We tend to isolate ourselves geographically and emotionally to the dire situations in our own backyard. It saddens me to see people living with no hope and a total disregard for human life.

    We are our brothers keeper. I hope Obama comes back to Chicago and works in the neighborhoods affected by this violence and lack of opportunity and the importance of the family in these communities. Many of his supporters could help him with this gargantuan task.

    Many American cities are crumbing, and their citizens are losing hope, including Chicago.

  4. - Formerly Known As... - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 12:42 pm:

    I was wondering whether anyone else had seen this. Disturbing stuff.

    One of the biggest takeaways I am left with from all the literature and work on this issue is not necessarily that violence is taking place, but the concentration of the violence.

    These murders, by and large, aren’t taking place on the Magnificent Mile. They are taking place in specific areas. 500 murders in Chicago may not seem like much per capita, as Zorn points out.

    But 400 of those murders taking place in just 5-10 community areas? It’s devastating.

    Not to mention the trauma and mental scars left on those who grow up amid such violence.

  5. - Mason born - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 12:47 pm:

    I am curious and if anyone can shed light i would appreciate it. There is a lot of press in STL media about the Dangerous city stuff. A lot of the problem for STL is the fact that their city limits encompass the high crime low income areas while the affluent areas are in the County. I suspect something similar in Chicago but in reverse. Since Chicago encompasses such a large land area swaths of affluent low crime (better policed) areas are included thus making the crime per 100K go down. However the drawback to that is since the area is so large the raw numbers are quite staggering.

    Am i all wet or is this a factor.

  6. - Chavez-respecting Obamist - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 12:56 pm:

    “the day will come when there will be violence in the streets over income disparities and the lack of opportunity for those on the low end of the socioeconomic ladder.”

    Isn’t that exactly what is happening now? The overarching problem is poverty. If we as a society do serious work eradicating poverty, lots of other problems would disappear.

  7. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 12:58 pm:

    Bloomington in the last 11 days has had 4 incidents where at night people are robbed and beaten by groups of people. pipe to the head involved. Had not heard about that until today.

    all violence is disturbing. anywhere. ever read about violence on other continents? makes us look fairly calm. numbers of incidents per capita is one thing I find interesting and Chicago’s numbers on murders are going down both in numbers and per capita. but immediacy of incidents increases in impact to the viewer/reader/listener with electronic forms of communication. hearing about things faster and seeing things makes an impression.

    and this form of electronic communication….a tv documentary….is quite disturbing. because we see criminals in their element. and the element is mean and nasty. and because the documentary maker calls them savages, does not let us hear them calling themselves savages. I want to hear that. why does he not put that in? that is a very deep term to use about people.

    yes, it is true that many resources have been pulled from these communities, but on purpose? sometimes businesses die, sometimes people just want to move out. after all, these criminals seem to have moved out of the developments and brought their criminal element with them. where are the parents? juvenile community restorative justice….yeah, right.

    but, yes, Rich, you are right about the hospital thing….U. of C. pulled out of the adult emergency care in 1987, I believe. they should stop claiming that they take care of the neighborhood when they do not. but Provident was a hospital that should not have been taken over by the County.

    thanks for posting the video here. kept meaning to view it, but you are making all of us think together. thanks.

  8. - Formerly Known As... - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 12:58 pm:

    One part provides a fleeting moment of levity amid an otherwise grim segment. The portion where the gang member essentially calls out politicans as disconnected and clueless in calling to ban assault weapons as a means of reducing the shootings in Chicago:

    “We use handguns in Chicago, just to point that out, while they try to ban assault rifles. We don’t use assault rifles in Chicago. We get up on you, baby.” (laughter)

    That, and the moment the reporter asks if anyone in the circle of people around him is carrying a weapon at the moment. Surely those are all properly registered weapons.

  9. - RonOglesby - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 1:03 pm:

    If we as a society do serious work eradicating poverty, lots of other problems would disappear.

    I think part of the argument is how we “eradicate poverty”. Straight up transfer programs have not worked, housing programs have not work, free public eduction, etc, etc.

    In most impoverished areas (black or white) there is also a huge break down in the normal family. Fathers are absent, babies are born to unwed mothers. Fixing this problem cannot be done without addressing some of that. What was that one stat that said “Graduate high school, dont go to jail and dont have a baby without being married” and like 90 something percent of those people dont wind up below the poverty line.

    Some folks think that is preaching morality… I dont know. I had a poor mom and a druggie old man. But mom forced me into school, made me stay out of trouble, and follow those simple rules.

  10. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 1:05 pm:

    I’m pretty sure the high rate of gun violence is a cause of the closing of so many level one trauma centers. It’s kind of a vicious circle. Gun shot victims are very expensive to treat, obviously, and many victims lack adequate insurance. I’m pretty sure Medicaid coverage for a typical gun shot victim is well below the actual cost of care.

    So it’s Oak Lawn, Stroger or Northwestern now that U of C is also out of the trauma care business.

  11. - Fred L. - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 1:35 pm:

    God bless Eric Zorn. Crime is down and down significantly in Chicago!

    There were 506 murders in Chicago last year and it made international headlines. An all time record, right? Wrong! In 1974, there were 970 murders. In the early 90’s when crack first moved into town, there were more than 900 murders almost every year.

    Are there too many killings in Chicago? Yes. Chicago experiences more murders than NYC despite having about a third of the population. But media’s coverage of Chicago’s alleged murder epidemic is in terrible need of some context.

    Eric Zorn is the only one providing it.

  12. - MrJM - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 1:45 pm:

    “Chiraq” as marketing hook:

    – MrJM

  13. - Mason born - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 1:51 pm:


    As far as that goes you could say that about the entire Nation. Crime has steadily decreased Nationwide over the last 20yrs yet when you have a 24hr a day news cycle you have to fill it with something.

  14. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 1:52 pm:

    oh, great, WaPo writing about c-rap….criminal rap, rap about violence. is Chief Keef in or out of custody? buying that kind of music is enabling.

  15. - MrJM - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 1:54 pm:

    Amalia, You can read the actual article here:

    – MrJM

  16. - Fed up - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 2:05 pm:

    Traffic accidents are more of a drain on hospital resources at trauma centers than gunshots. . Serious heart attacks and strokes are more common as society lives longer than gunshot victims. Trauma care is very expensive and U of C wants nothing to do with it. Would upgrading a South side hospital into a trauma center be nice? Yes. I don’t know if it is urgently neccasary. The level of immediate care provided by CFD paramedics is incredible, I don’t believe the few extra minutes of transport time makes a difference in a significant number of cases. If you want to attack the violence jobs, education and stable families are neccasary.

  17. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 2:29 pm:

    Graduate high school - stay out of jail - don’t have babies out of wedlock. Sounds like a simple prescription. So many folks in those communities do just that. The parents make sure the children stay out of trouble and stay in school. They have a much better chance of reaching an age where they have to worry about retirement or pensions. How many gangs have a 401k plan?

    The casual nihilism in the film is hard to watch and understand.

    I agree that housing programs, jobs programs and anti-gang programs have been tried and found wanting. The breakdown in the family evident in these communities needs to be addressed. I wonder when Al Sharpton will get on that bandwagon?

    I have grave doubts that legalizing even all drugs would have an impact on the culture in those communities. The criminalization of some of the residents would resist going straight - the anti-establishment mindset seems quite strong.

  18. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 2:30 pm:

    MrJM, thanks for the link, I did read the article. lots of money…..

  19. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 2:31 pm:

    Good on Zorn. I’ve been down on the murder hysteria for a while. It’s bad enough without being ignorant about it.

    Across the board, the recent coverage of Chicago’s murder “epidemic” and “record murder levels” has been some of the shoddiest reporting I’ve seen in this town.

    Seriously, is it too much to expect from a journalist to spend 10 minutes on the google?

    I know for a fact some of these talking heads on TV were around in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Do they not remember those days?

    About the only thing you can say for sure is that high homicide and violent crime rates seem to occur in areas with high concentrations of poverty.

    I can’t explain why NYC and LA have fewer murders than Chicago. Maybe they’ve gotten so expensive that everyone’s been pushed out to Newark and Compton.

  20. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 2:34 pm:

    “If you want to attack the violence jobs, education and stable families are neccasary.”

    the idea may be true but how can you get investment in these communities with these gangs running the streets.

  21. - Mason born - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 2:42 pm:

    –the idea may be true but how can you get investment in these communities with these gangs running the streets. –

    There in lies the Million Dollar Question. Police the neighborhoods more aggressively and you pull resources from other neighborhoods opening a vacuum. Pull cops of the Mile you lose tourism. Legalize Drugs and gangs move into other avenues to make a profit. (Note the Mafia after repeal of Prohibition) It isn’t hopeless just hard as hades.

  22. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 3:40 pm:

    Whoopee - how to get investment into the communities while the gangs are running the streets? Not likely. Not now anyway. If folks stopped having so many babies out of wedlock - children raising children - the issue could take 20 years as the current gang members “retire”, one way or the other. I know folks who work in the juvenile courthouse courtrooms for abused and neglected children. To see what is happening to the children is beyond painful. 14 y/o mothers. Grandmothers who are in their late 20s who had multiple children by multiple fathers before they were 20.

    You have to address that first, IMO. It’s hard not to view folks being raised in that environment as being doomed to short brutal lives. A jobs program just don’t cut it.

    The majority of folks in those communities are just plain decent hard working folk. Yet they have to live in the midst of that - trying to protect their children while working hard to pay the bills, etc. The contrast is stark.

  23. - Shore - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 3:52 pm:

    Kass haters rejoicing. They don’t call it Madiganistan!

  24. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 4:07 pm:

    ==I think part of the argument is how we “eradicate poverty”. Straight up transfer programs have not worked, housing programs have not work, free public eduction, etc, etc.==

    Have fair “straight up transfer programs” even been properly tried? I don’t think so. As far back as the mid-60s Chicago civil rights activists complained about the unfair and paternistic way relief and welfare programs distributed their money for black versus white citizens. Let’s also not forget that the New Deal was basically a giant giveaway to predominantly whites. The same thing with public housing programs. They were designed to fail for black Americans and designed to work for everyone else.

    ==oh, great, WaPo writing about c-rap….criminal rap, rap about violence. is Chief Keef in or out of custody? buying that kind of music is enabling.==

    Where is the backlash against “criminal” rock and its homophobia, misogyny, and racism? Oh right, it’s mostly played by…

    ==There in lies the Million Dollar Question. Police the neighborhoods more aggressively and you pull resources from other neighborhoods opening a vacuum. Pull cops of the Mile you lose tourism. Legalize Drugs and gangs move into other avenues to make a profit. (Note the Mafia after repeal of Prohibition) It isn’t hopeless just hard as hades.==

    Where is the Mob today? It exists, but in a significantly smaller, splintered, and less lucrative form. How long did that take? Decades. The idea that there is a solution that will solve things tomorrow is not only stupid, but also silly. Not that your comment is silly or stupid Mason born, it isn’t, but you bringing up the Mafia spurred this from me. Take away the racket of the drug market and you’ve already cut into gangs big time. The rest is a battle to get them from going into ‘legitimate’ businesses and getting them out of ones they are in.

  25. - Mason born - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 4:28 pm:


    Sorry to have lit your fuse. However the same argument that by legalizing booze again it would kill the mob didn’t work. To assume that the gangs profitting from drugs will be unable to transition to another income stream is a very problematic presupisition. As for the Mob it wasn’t until the Rico statutes that the Mob really started getting hit. They were temporarily hurt by repeal of prohibition but it was far from a death blow. My post was to point out that we all know there is a problem we all know we need to address it. However it isn’t a simple fix.

    I’ll be honest with you i think the “drug wars” are an abject failure and waste of resources. Legalization will most likely have some impact on crime how much is hard to determine. I just don’t think that it is a one stop fix.

  26. - wishbone - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 4:44 pm:

    Income inequality along with climate change, and religious fundamentalism are the three major challenges facing mankind, and this documentary shows just how severe the consequences of our worsening problem of inequality have become. What the affected community has to understand, unfortunately, is that no outside aid is coming to solve their problem. They have to do it themselves. Father Flager’s attempts to shift the blame anywhere else but within the community notwithstanding, until the acceptance of violence within the black community, and the code of silence that it engenders are rejected nothing will change.

  27. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 5:08 pm:

    @Precinct Captain, I’m with you against that kind of music as well and have preached on that in many ways. but the truth is, lots and lots of c-rap is purchased by people who don’t live in violent communities. there are plenty of enablers who don’t look like the “kids” in that video.

  28. - mokenavince - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 5:13 pm:

    The are many more good people in Chicago than bad,
    I work there everyday. The streets are very mean in places, other places as safe as Canada.
    They need more cops and more Dads. Chicago Schools work hard to help these kids. For every bad kid there are 10 good ones.
    We dumped Billions a day into the Mid-East and got nothing. We need to help all the large cities to help America.
    Starving kids is not the answer.

  29. - Formerly Known As... - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 5:22 pm:

    Rahm Emanuel reduced the number of Chicago Police Department positions by over 10% in 2011.

    In 2012, the number of murders in Chicago spiked.


  30. - Failure - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 6:26 pm:

    Ask your self Has Obama or Quinn done anything to help. They want more restrictions on law abiding citizens, that have no affect on criminals. Quinn needs to detail the State Police to work in the problem areas. I feel a life of a school age child is more important than a seat belt ticket. Obama has the Home land security. Send in the Home land security. This is a major problem. Quit talking and focusing on the problem, not restriction of the whole nation. A Hispanic male can shoot a black teenager in Florida and we see it on the news for months. The president talks about this for weeks. But 500 black people are shot by other black people every year in the President’s home city, nobody cars. Unless somebody steps up and takes the lead, the problem in Chicago can only get worse.

  31. - FormerParatrooper - Tuesday, Jul 30, 13 @ 7:45 pm:

    State Senator Collins said something that made me stop and listen again. Not a direct quote, but she said decades of failed economic and political policies are the blame.

    That to me is obvious, there is a definite failure. But is failed economic and political policies the sole problem?

    I was disturbed most by the smalll child watching these gang members smoking dope,cursing every other word, and brandishing firearms like some exploitation b movie. Does that child have a chance?

  32. - Conservative Republican - Wednesday, Jul 31, 13 @ 8:31 am:

    ==Once again, missing from that article were the voices of the combatants. You may not care about those people, and maybe they shouldn’t be glorified by giving them coverage. But how else are we gonna find out what they’re thinking and how they live and why they do what they do? “Chiraq” is a somewhat flawed start, but at least it’s a start.==

    Rich, what you wrote here is an apt, necessary point. Pundits, politicians, and folks at large have been decrying the street violence in certain Chicago neighborhoods for a very long time, but almost no one (at least that I have seen as a daily scanner of the news) has attempted to write or broadcast any kind of analysis of the perpetrators of these crimes, their roots, their motivations, etc. They are simply lumped together as faceless “gangbangers” fighting endless turf wars. The closest we have come is the media concentration on the murder of Hadiya Pendleton. Upon the arrest of the suspected killers, we got a glimpse of their background and lifestyles. If we wish to end this epidemic of violence, we need to know more about the perpetrators. If nothing else, public identification and shaming of these people would be a good start on the part of a community otherwise powerless in ending this crime wave.

  33. - Gribble - Thursday, Aug 1, 13 @ 8:07 am:

    ===About the only thing you can say for sure is that high homicide and violent crime rates seem to occur in areas with high concentrations of poverty.===

    Oh, you can get way more specific than that, crackah

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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