Chicago is truly a tale of two cities, especially regarding public safety. For those living in the city’s elite downtown and North Side neighborhoods, the carnage plaguing the South and West Sides has, for decades, seemed a world away—something they’d read about in the Chicago Tribune, but rarely, if ever, experience. Recent events have shattered those expectations, awakening many to the reality that, even along the Magnificent Mile, the line between peace and chaos is paper-thin.
Early Monday morning, caravans of mostly black Chicagoans from around the city descended on its famed shopping district, ransacking and looting luxury retailers like Coach, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry. Police responded, making more than 100 arrests, but the damage was done—and not just the brazen thefts. Two people were shot, and not by police.
The episode was apparently sparked by misinformation regarding a police shooting on the South Side on Sunday. The story that went viral: cops had shot and killed a 15-year-old black boy. The reality: officers from the Chicago Police Department had indeed shot a black male—20-year-old Latrell Allen, who is expected to recover. Police say that they responded to a report of a man with a gun, and that when they attempted to apprehend Allen, he fired at them. He has been charged with attempted murder.
For their part, Chicago officials denounced the rioters and corrected the record regarding the details of Sunday’s police shooting. At a press conference Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot rightly called the riot “an assault” on the city. Police Superintendent David Brown agreed, and added that the rioters had been “emboldened by (the lack of) consequences.” Brown was likely referring to the combination of forces—including the “progressive” approach of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, the city’s reform of bail and remand laws, and the recent decline in its prison and jail populations—that have lessened the consequences for engaging in criminal activity and raised the transaction costs of doing legitimate business, even in the Loop.
A lack of consequences may explain not only the violent looting but also more serious crimes recently committed in the usually tranquil parts of Chicago’s downtown. Last week, a locally known Chicago rapper was gunned down in a triple shooting, in broad daylight, in the Gold Coast neighborhood. Another man was shot at the nearby W Hotel late last month—the fourth shooting victim in the Gold Coast over the previous seven days. A mid-July shooting along the Chicago River left one person dead and another wounded. Even the northern suburb of Evanston—home to Northwestern University—has seen a spate of recent shootings, including a homicide in which three men were recently charged.
Up to now, these more affluent regions of Chicagoland haven’t pushed back on voguish proposals to depolice and decarcerate. That’s largely because the deadly gang violence claiming so many innocent lives in Chicago is a problem from which they live at a safe distance. If recent events are any indication, though, that may be changing. The question is whether support for a permissive approach to crime will change with it.
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