Society

With Chicago Leading The Nation In Murders, It's Time To Declare A State Of Emergency

| by Nik Bonopartis
A member of the Latin Kings flashing his gang symbol.A member of the Latin Kings flashing his gang symbol.

With a demoralized police department, a city that doesn't trust its own cops, and new crime statistics that show a dramatic increase in murders, Chicago is reeling -- and Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin wants Gov. Bruce Rauner to declare a state of emergency.

The governor should hear him out.

Fifty-one people were murdered and another 292 were injured by gunfire in Chicago in the first month of 2016, according to new statistics released by the Chicago Police Deparment. That's an alarming spike, and if it's indicative of a larger trend, Chicago could easily surpass the 488 and 432 homicides reported in 2015 and 2014, respectively.

The 2015 total was the highest number of reported homicides in any U.S. city, and January's 51 murders put the city on pace for more than 600 for 2016 if things don't improve.

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A state of emergency would allow Chicago to request much-needed help for its overmatched police department and allow Chicago to tap federal resources instead of depending on the state, which has its own significant financial problems. Boykin formally delivered a letter with the request to Rauner on Jan. 4.

“With a state of emergency comes resources from the federal government," Boykin said. "The state, due to its failure to really come together around these issues, is causing persistent poverty and additional violence. The city can’t do anything because they got a mayor wounded badly and a Chicago Police Department that has lost credibility."

The problem in Illinois is complicated: Both the city and state are cash-strapped, and 2016 promises another year of steep cuts to things like Chicago's school district, social services, even essentials like ambulances.

At the same time, state politicians are deadlocked in budget talks, leaving Chicago in limbo. City leaders can't make significant moves without knowing how much state aide they'll have to work with, or how much federal aide will trickle down to the city. That means police staffing levels are unlikely to change, particularly at a time when city leaders had to impose new taxes and cut budgets across the board just to get out of the red -- $720 million in new taxes, to be exact, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

But that's not all Chicago is dealing with.

Relationships between Chicago cops and the people they're sworn to protect have been at their worst in recent memory following a series of high-profile police shootings, including the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by officers on Oct. 20, 2014. Police did not release video of the shooting until late November of 2015, prompting weeks worth of protests in the city.

Another high-profile police shooting, which claimed the lives of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and 55-year-old Bettie Jones on Dec. 26, reignited tensions just as local media released a damning report showing 80 percent of Chicago police dash cameras were intentionally disabled or broken by the city's patrol officers.

Chicago's police commissioner resigned in the wake of the fallout from the McDonald shooting, and interim Police Superintendent John Escalante has said his officers have become tentative -- and less effective -- since they've been under a microscope.

Officers are concerned "about being the next viral video," Escalante told ABC News. "Even when they're doing something right, they're concerned that their actions will be questioned and they will be the one that goes viral."

That echoes Emanuel's comments in October, when he blamed protests for causing the spike in crime.

"We have allowed our police department to get fetal and it is having a direct consequence," Emanuel said. "They have pulled back from the ability to interdict ... they don't want to be a news story themselves, they don't want their career ended early, and it's having an impact."

While city and state leaders squabble over budget cuts and how to tackle the worrying murder trend, there's one thing they can probably all agree on: Chicago is a mess right now.

When Spike Lee released his latest movie, "Chiraq," in December, critics complained that the filmmaker was hurting the city's image by unfairly comparing it to a war zone. That argument looks less compelling the higher the homicide rate climbs.

Cook County Commissioner Boykins is right: It's time for city and state leaders to admit they can't solve the problem on their own. They should swallow their pride and ask for help. The man in the Oval Office is, after all, a Chicagoan, and would not deny help to the city he calls home.

“We haven’t been willing to admit that we basically have been living with this level of terror and violence," Boykins said. "Somebody has to stand up and say something and do something."

Sources: Chicago Sun-Times [2], CNN [2] [3], TIME, ABC News / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

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