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May 7th, 2009
04:50 PM ET

What’s fueling Chicago’s violence?

Program Note: Tune in tonight to watch  Sudhir Venkatesh talk to Anderson about the violence in Chicago on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET

Johnel Ford was shot and killed on Feb. 12, 2009. He was 16.

Johnel Ford was shot and killed on Feb. 12, 2009. He was 16.

Sudhir Venkatesh
Columbia University

Chicago has experienced a rise in youth violence, particularly in its inner-city neighborhoods. There have already been 36 school students who have been killed so far this year, which is troubling, and many young people have been hurt in the shootings.

One factor causing the violence is the large-scale demolition of the city’s public housing developments. When the “projects” were torn down, over 20,000 families were sent to other neighborhoods. This means that over 100,000 poor people had to find a new place to live. Nearly 90 percent ended up moving to other poor neighborhoods in Chicago that were as crime-ridden as the projects. This also meant that the kids had to cross gang boundaries. It is not an accident that youth violence is occurring in and around Chicago schools because gangs spend a lot of time recruiting in school areas. The youth who ended up in new schools were assumed to represent an enemy gang, even if they had no gang membership.

The situation has become explosive.

Chicago also has some of the most corrupt and ineffective police. In low income minority neighborhoods, residents and police still don’t get along. The result is that people feel unsafe and don’t rely on the law to come to their aid. Instead, they will sometimes take matters into their own hands, which can lead to further escalations in violence.

The city needs to spend time and money providing opportunities for youth in some of these neighborhoods. Most of the resources are in the elite areas of the city, near the Lakefront, but they are most needed in the middle and working-class neighborhoods. Hopefully this recent violence will serve as a wakeup call for Mayor Daley’s administration.

Otherwise, things might get worse.

Editor's Note: Sudhir Venkatesh is a professor of sociology at Columbia University. He has spent over two decades studying gangs in Chicago and New York. His most recent book, based on that research, is Gang Leader for a Day (Penguin Press).

soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. Terry

    you could get more time selling drugs than murder i no some one who got 16yrs for selling drugs where people who murder people get 2-6 yrs in jail! But I still love Chicago born and raised

    August 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm |
  2. Dr.Dean

    The American Judicial system is too forgiving for criminals who commit gross murder. It is no surprise the violence in chicago, and in the U.S. is much higher than most developed nations. The penalties in Saudi Arabia for criminals should be something to consider. We need tougher laws, tougher penalties. It seems like a right of passage for most teens in the gang world to serve time for murder; it earns them stripes. Public whippings / amputation of limbs that pulled that very trigger that took away that innocent life may be a more suitable form of punishment. If you create fear of the severity of punishment in a criminal, there may not be so many gang bangers that we see today in the streets of chicago.

    August 22, 2009 at 10:23 pm |
  3. Lamore

    Alot of that mess has to do with the home invironment. Many black kids don't have a father in the home,and that creates a lot of trouble for society when black childern act up. Some of them come from a decent loving two parent home. But 70% are born out of wedlock,and that is a real digrace. People are responsible for the way their children are born. If you live in proverty and have nothing going for you. And then you decide to get pregnant, your children wil be born into proverty too. Then they see what other children have and want the same things too. But you can't afford it because you don't have the money. I don't know why women have,and continue to have babies by low level males who can't provide for them,nor their kids. That alone tells you that they have low self esteem and don't stand for anything.They don't think what is in the best interest of the kids but only think about their nasty disrepectful interest. And this is mainly for African American women.Many black females cause their own children to be failures just like them. Stop having sex with any male you think you can hold on to because those black males really don't want you black females. And if so,it is only a matter of time before they leave you and and your children . And find someone else. And the cycle keeps going on and on. Then comes the taxpayers to support those kids because you can't provide for your kids. There is nothing good about being on welfare. President Obama needs to get many of them off of govenment money. Moreless,stop freeloading off of taxpayers. And do something for yourself and your kids too. Get an education,and set a sample for your kids,get a job with training,have respect for yourselves,and stop being with sorry ass men because it makes you sorry ass black females in America. And the world is watching you begging for the government. One more thing,you all need to stop trying to make teachers raise your kids. They are just there to teach,and not raise your kids!!!! you are trying to push your responsibilities on them. Raise your own damn kides,sorry asse black females. And this is an African American woman P.S. I'm surprise Obama is not trying to see what he can do about the killing of black children, coming from where he lives. Yet he is trying to promote peace around the world and is providing resources to other countries. That right there reenforces my belief that he is phony too. You all should go after Obama because it is his job to protect the American citizens domestic and foreign.

    May 24, 2009 at 12:55 am |
  4. cheyenne (wisconsin)

    This is messd up.
    Really, you can't band guns cause someone is going to fight about it..
    And I'm doing a research on civil rights and my teacher told me to look this up..I dont get how this isn't on the news at all but, once a WHITE kid or grown up would get shot/beatin' it would cover the news day and night,

    Really cops should learn that if 36 fkn' kids are were killed since January they would get smart and try to protect them or help in some way..
    I'm not just blaming these cops eather.

    May 11, 2009 at 11:10 am |
  5. V. Knight

    Why is anyone surprised that child violence is increasing. Crime is increasing everywhere When parents have little hope, children have even less. They see what was theirs demolished and what child can stand this? Corruption of the police? Bah! It is the only way out we are offering children.

    May 10, 2009 at 11:54 am |
  6. DC

    Assigning blame for this... OK but you forgot a couple of notable mentions.

    We have spent billions of dollars with our "War on Terror". Gangs and gang violence are as much, if not more, of a terrorist threat to America as any forign radical group. It exists not only in Chicago but all over the country. What are we doing about it? Nothing! Why? War is big money. There is no money to be made in Washington in such a rediculous proposal.

    The Prison systems in America are no more than a finishing school for these home grown terrorists. Punishment? Are you kidding? Gangs run most Prisons. They are in their element there. The whole system is flawed and needs to be revamped.

    Now lets talk about society in general who is responsible for this as well. You, me, and all of us. Being a parent should be looked as as being a privlige and not a human right. Children growing up plopped in front of a TV, out on the streets alone and unsupervised, in some cases far worse. Parenting is a very hard job and not a simple biological function. Why do we have to earn the right to drive a vehicle and not bring a child into the world? Thay can both be just a dangerous, can't they? Just because you exist doesn't mean you MUST procreate. What do we do about it? Turn our heads and say it is not my place to judge. Well... IT IS!!!! There are certain standards to every aspect of our society except parenting and it is digusting.

    Understanding we are all going throught hard financial times right now and many of us are living on Social Security or unemployment this next part may not be too popular. If you are living on Welfare and have been living on welfare. Having a child and bringing they into that situation so your monthly stipen grows is criminal and should be seen as such. More often than not these are the kids that wind up Gang Banging and doing all this insane garbage.

    May 10, 2009 at 10:47 am |
  7. Corrinna

    It is unfortunate that people have to be afraid for their children in their own neighborhood. Hard working good people that are doing a great job raising their children have to fear violence? There is so much pressure put on these kids to fit in, especially boys. My son was recently bullied at school and did not want his name mentioned when he reported it to the office. He did not tell me fearing I would go to the school and the office never contacted me and it was serious. I found out because I found an excused note in his pocket. Many people will get hurt and they know it, so they keep quiet but it does not help, it is getting worse. Parents have to be soldiers for their children and other people's children and fight back against violence. If the police and school authorities are not doing much, we do need to take it into our own hands. Banning guns is not the solution, having strict laws and gun control is the solution. We have the right to have guns so we can try to protect our children when the law is not capable of doing so.

    May 10, 2009 at 10:07 am |
  8. Lampe

    Gerard: you said 30,000 people were killed by guns. No 30,000 people were killed by people, who just happened to us a gun. Do you think for one moment, if those people didn't have guns, that they would not have killed those people by some other means? Stop blaming guns for the problem, people are the problem period.

    May 9, 2009 at 9:30 pm |
  9. Janet, Singapore

    Really have to take time out to "clean house" and provide some production and also at the time money generating activities for the youth that would also at the same time teach them skills and rehabilitate them 🙂

    May 9, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  10. Roslind Blasingame-Buford

    The prevalence of youth violence in Chicago is horrid! Youth, parents, schools, and communities have seemingly become desensitized as this epidemic has become a constant norm! While gun control remains as a highly contested (political and social) debate, our youth…our future…continues to falter! This year, 36 Chicago youth have suffered violent deaths…an issue that cannot afford to go unrecognized and/or unaddressed. For 40 years, BUILD has worked in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods to stem the violence that takes away the positive potential – and, far too often, the very lives – of our youth. A key BUILD strength is developing innovative programs to address the ever-changing challenges that place youth at risk. In 1969, BUILD started working with fewer than 200 gang-affiliated teens in one neighborhood and today has grown to serve over 3,500 youth in nine Chicago Communities annually. BUILD’s programs are designed to meet both the immediate problem of preventing youth from joining gangs to working with gang-involved youth to develop alternatives to this lifestyle by helping them to view a future where they attend school, graduate and pursue higher education goals.

    Programs like BUILD, The YMCA Streets & Intervention, Cease Fire, and others must come together and work with lawmakers to develop a grassroots plan of action to save our youth! Collectively, we can make a difference! It’s possible…it’s necessary…and it’s time!!!

    May 9, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  11. Terry B. Moore

    I work at a state detox facility and I see the devastation of substance abuse and increasing mental health issues within minority America;there needs to be an executive order mandating that all public and private hospitals have a detox and mental health wards, allocatng as many beds as possible to the cause; the financial sacrifice has to be made to rebuild and save the lives of these individuals. Removing them from the streets is what will help them; closing the door on them because of a lack of income and medical insurance isn' the answer. America's youth is slipping through the crack withing minority America because of a lack of income and resources. The small state run facilities are not enough to accomadate the continuous flow of youths coming through the door that has no money or any other resources with which to rebuild their lives; they hoping that someone out there is willing to speak on their behalf and moving our elected officals to take actions to change their lives and offer the hope again; eloquent speeches without actions won't help;however, money and volunteers from all sources within America will bring that hope that minority America has been missing for decades and the hope that our current president spoke of and promised throught his campaign, now its time to deliver;minority can't afford to wait any longer.We need the audacity of our commandeering chief to stand and deliver the goods in actions not words.Its time to tap into those unlimited resorces that are out there in America and the every available resource of our government and revive minority America without delay.

    May 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm |
  12. steve

    thar is to menny imagrints legol and elegol coming in to the country that just want a pease of the amracan dreem and its terning in to the ameracan night mear

    May 9, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  13. Susan

    You have got to be kidding me. "Chicago also has some of the most corrupt and ineffective police." Really? How about some stats to prove that, professor? How about you check the stats of how many aldermen/women have gone to jail over the last 2 decades compared to police?

    And this violence that is perpetuated against our Chicago Public school students...how about some numbers as to how many kids have been shot on or near their school? That's right, you can't do it. You know why? Because it hasn't been happening that way. Not unless school is being conducted on a corner somewhere at 12:45am while shooting dice.

    Let's look to the parents, the guardians who should be guiding these misguided youths. No, that would be too easy. God forbid, parenting be a part of the equation. Instead, let's blame the police. Easy scapegoats. And let's throw more money at neighborhoods who clearly have shown no interest in taking responsibility for their own actions. How very liberal of you.

    May 9, 2009 at 11:50 am |
  14. CAMILA

    in my opinion i think this is a problem of racist people....i m wondering if all these kids being killed are african americans?

    May 9, 2009 at 11:50 am |
  15. TJ Norwood Park

    First and foremost the parents or lack there of need to take responsibility.Second,have any of you watched Mtv.latley or listen to any of the crap that is played on the raido? Who investest in the production of this nonsense,and who allows it to air? This is the kind of garbage that our youth is listining to and theese"artists"who there looking up to as role models,who spew out lyrics of slingin dope,bustin caps(shooting guns)and violating women for lack of better word.Do some research and see how many of these rapers are on there way to the penitentery even after makeing millions in the recording studio.I just don't get it. Kids don't know any better,but all the executives in the entertainment industry should,what ever sells I guess.Maybe theese execs should spend a day in an inner city high school and see what kind of influence there money machine has on our citys youth.

    May 9, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  16. Marie Gachelin

    I agree that Chicago has "some of the most corrupt and ineffective police" and if the peole who are affected are not resourceful, they can't find help. Of course if we waited after 36 have died to react, it is clear that there is a breakdown in the system. it is called social neglect. Why didn't Chicago address this matter after the first child, the second child or even after the third child had died? Why now?

    Hundreds of children could have died and Chicago would have neglected to even acknowledge the issue had it not been for the media. I guarantee you that the problem will be ignored once again the moment the media turn its back on the issue.

    As guilty as Chicago is for neglectling it duties towards some of its constituency, other cities as are guilty. It's normally, not their job or they did not make the law, that's just the way things are attitude, there is no lack of accountability in too many parts of the country.

    May 9, 2009 at 8:20 am |
  17. Linda

    My grandson funeral is today. He was gun down on 4/29/2009 a day after his birthday. He was shot once in each leg and then twice in his head. Now, these detective are protecting these killers. These people shot him in the daylight but these people are these Katrina people who always lied and cover up their crimes. It is repeatly the same story told when ever they coverup their killings.
    Most all these people are robbing, stealing and using Houston citizens id and performing all types of Identiy theft.I need to expose these coverup murder crimes which these police officers do not solve and let these killers get away.If any news media read this please contact me because I want to expose how this HPD is not sloving murders when they assigned to them.

    May 9, 2009 at 8:03 am |
  18. Darvin

    I am a 39 year old man and have seen alot of brutality and political angling to get funding for more over time pay. I dont blame the police for the murder rate I believe it starts way higher than the police. If the murder rate goes down then the city doesnt get the same budget money they did the year before. They pad the numbers like an other business but in this business the numbers are minority bodies. If would dont restructure our world its going to come to an end from self destruction. You dont think the police knew when they torn down the building they took away a gangs turf and sent them to the enemies turf and this is the result. We should impeach Mayor's for not being able to control his city and get someone in there that will. 36 potential success stories gone and all minority, GO FIGURE.

    May 9, 2009 at 7:30 am |
  19. Marlo's Sis

    My family lives in Minnesota. My mom raised 4 kids on her own. I have 2sisters, and 1brother. It was tough for my brother to be the only male in the house. So he was going to try to make a different life in Chicago. He went to stay with our father , who lived on the South side Chicago. He was 19yrs old and he started planning to get his GED. He was all ready to go work at a UIC cafe. But like a week before that could happen, On August 20th, 2004, at aprox 10pm, I recieved a phone call from my chicago cousin. When I answered, I could tell something was wrong by the sound of her voice. My little brother, my ONLY brother, had died at Mount Sinai hospital from a gunshot to his back. I could not believe it..I was just in tears, at the same time hoping for someone to say they got him back (resusitated)! but no he had passed away. It hurts soo bad, Some stranger, took him away from me, away from my sisters, and from my MOM, he was her pride and joy baby boy!
    My brother's name is Marlo Mesarina, he was 19 years old. He has a Very Loving family in MN. He was not affiliated with any gang. He was just walking back from the corner store to his father's home when a car drove by and started shooting. This case has not been solved..... I don't feel like the police really even cared. Still I hope this case will be solved.

    Please stop the violence!

    May 9, 2009 at 3:21 am |
  20. Ted L Glines

    There is a blind spot in background checks involved with weapons purchasing. I am almost 69 years old. A background check shows me with no warrants or criminal history. This, in spite of the fact that I spent 10 years in prison for armed robbery and ADW with intent to commit murder. This is possible because I am part of several surviving generations of ex-felons who were convicted before the Internet made criminal histories widely available. The old paper records were never grandfathered into the system.

    May 9, 2009 at 3:00 am |
  21. Marvin Gray, Jr.

    I grew up on the West Side of Chicago and it wasn't a cake walk. I think I survived mostly because I decided to change my life and to stay out of trouble. I was scared of the gangs and what they would do to me. So I didn't join a gang. But its not all just gangs that cause the violence, so we can't just leave all the blame on them. I think the best way to solve this issue is to provide constant knowledge about surviving. Young adults need to learn that they need to stand on their own two feet and not need to hang with a crew or act tough to be cool.

    Cool is living right!!! We just need to get the violent people to believe that.

    Now, I could go outside and get hit with a stray bullet and my life is over because someone was shooting at someone else. Violence is not always the answer. But if people realize not to betray others and to treat people fairly then most of the problems are cured. I am willing to help all that I can with my words but the action of being better people is going to have to come from within those who choose to be violent.

    Chicago, Live better for your family, friends, and yourselves.

    I understand sometimes we choose to do wrong to make things right, but that can last only for so long. Please Chicago, that child dying could be yours. So what we need to do is live right, but be ready to defend yourselves in acts of self defense. Peace Chicago. I love you all.

    May 9, 2009 at 2:26 am |
  22. RW

    I strongly agree with TJ, where is the parents. These are the worst parents in America. There is no way I would live in a place where there is guns been fired every day in the neighborhood. I have children and I could not imagine growing my children up in an environment such as that. I would walk to another state if I had to before I live in fear that my babies may get in a gang or worst dead from a senseless killing. These parents should be charged for their children being in gangs and not going to school. Charge the parents and the persons that register the guns in their names for gang members. Fire the policemen that are not doing their jobs, the FBI needs to step in. This can be stopped, these are children-train up a child in the way he/she should go and when he/she is old they will not depart from it: proverb 22:6. These parents will have to answer to God for their deeds.

    May 9, 2009 at 2:13 am |
  23. Marvin Gray

    I grew up in the inner-city of Chicago and felt that the only way to survive Chicago the best was to stay away from the gangs. I am now 29 years old and grew up with a good family foundation. It all begins with parents who care about their children and not want them involved with the violence. The parents in the inner – city and all over America need to stress on a daily basis the importance of being a strong person who can stand alone on be on their own feet and not need someone to lead them down the wrong path.
    I love Chicago and the people there, but the violence has to stop. I'm not bragging because I was able to survive till now but I survived because my parents stressed that I stay out of trouble. Now, everybody doesn't have parents like that so I would like to advise the children in the city of Chicago that when they see or sense trouble coming their way then go the other way. Peace Chicago and I will be praying for you all.

    May 9, 2009 at 2:10 am |
  24. Mark S. Allen

    Ask The President why there is so much shootings and killings in Chicago. One example is that The President's OWN WEBSITE (www.thewhitehouse.gov) states that he wants to see groups model themselves after the ant-violence group CeaseFire but thats impossible when groups like CeaseFire went over a year WITHOUT funding and many of their best violence interrupters had to get other employ to get by. THEN, many of the groups who were modeling themselves after CeaseFire had THEIR funding cut, and had to lay off staff and cut the anti vioelnce programs in the very areas where crime is going up.

    No matter how much you cry out for help, these youth get sent to yet another program, wrting another grant trying to find legitimate work and when they dont, they go right back to the gang and drug economies by which too many keel getting shot and dying.

    But Anderson Cooper and others with Chicago ties like Roland Martin, Warren Ballentine, Tamron Hall, Don Lemon, and others have to ask the question – Why do we not respond to the rise in crime with IMMEDIATE intervention and preventions resources "On The Ground" the way we just responded with IMMEDIATE resources to stop a deadly flu virus from spreading? Do we not want to stop shooting and death as much as a flu virus?

    A few billion dollars that has already been lost on the executives bailouts could have put hundreds of thousands of urban youth to work versus trying to live of the gang and drug economies. Until saving the lives of urban young people is just as imporytant as stopping a flu virus, then Chicago and other Urban areas will continue to see the rise in shootings and death as long as the gang and drug economies is the primary source of where far too many young people see as their only source of income. It's an economic problem thats being addressed through the "paralysis of analysis."

    I have known Barack Obama since he first arrived in Chicago and too bad that he is no longer listening to the very people who used to be "on the ground" with him and could tell him where he MUST direct
    much needed grassroots jobs and prevention and intervention resources. The group on Anderson Coopers show, CeaseFire in NO WAY have enough resources to provide what is needed in hands on ptevention and intervention efforts, and they SURE DON'T have the resources to put low income people to work.

    May 9, 2009 at 2:09 am |
  25. erica

    I was born and raised on the southeast side of chicago. I recently moved to florida to get away from the violence. Chicago has torn me from my family. I don't want my daughter being exposed to this violence, even though it is happening everywhere, I feel chicago is the worst. I'm moving back to chicago but with fear, because I can't stand to be away from my family. Every year I know of ateast 10 people who have been killed, some were apart of a gang and some weren't. Chicago cops are crooked and they need to be re-evaluated I've witnessed it. I agree the community needs to help in. I've always helped but everytime I try running to the police but they know certain people and don't do anything about it. So what I think that needs a change is the police as a start.

    May 9, 2009 at 2:04 am |
  26. Tom

    Keep getting after this story, Mayor Dayley is arrogant and complacent when it comes to issues like these. "We're not different from any other city" B.S. The numbers do not lie. The gun laws must change.

    May 9, 2009 at 2:04 am |
  27. victor

    A lot of those gang members form an alliance with gangs out of Gary Indiana to get guns. It is much easier to get guns in Indiana than it is in Illinois. Straw purchasers can be a family member or girlfriend or just friends they have in Indiana. Getting a gun is just as easy as purchasing drugs. Drugs and guns go hand in hand. Street gangs are nothing more than domestic terrorist. They should be treated as such. Terrorist should be hunted and killed. Hunt the terrorist....kill the terrorist. Very simple concept.

    May 9, 2009 at 1:56 am |
  28. Deby

    Maybe if there was religion in school, it would help . Parents should try to keep a better eye on their children, If that doesnot work then let parents, teachers, and the courts, and of course church handle these wayward angels. My prayers are with these children and for what it does to the families.

    May 9, 2009 at 1:53 am |
  29. Captain Curtis Newark, NJ

    I was paralyzed for over a year by a gunman that has never been caught! Newark has been ranked #1 for a few times in the pass; one year we were up to 105. The Honourable Cory Booker has done good by our city this pass year, ha and I give God thanks for that.

    Many of your comments are good and some are just Ignorant! In Newark Mayor Booker has developed the first 'Police Clergy Alliance' program in the country. Were we ride along with the police and give pastoral help to the many situations that can be resolved though God and not so mush the law.

    I am happy to say it does help! We give praise to God for healing me and giving me a voice in the community that tried to kill me.

    2Co 10:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

    Go in the strength of the Lord...
    Pastor Curtis

    May 9, 2009 at 1:52 am |
  30. dave

    what is the NATION OF ISLAM .... AND

    Min. Farrakhan saying/ doing about these shootings????

    May 9, 2009 at 1:52 am |
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