Over the course of a deadly weekend on Chicago’s South and West Sides—during which 74 people were shot, 12 of whom were killed—there were, according to the Chicago Tribune, six shootings that “injured four or more people in a single attack,” the largest of which “wounded eight people.” In other words, there were six “mass shootings,” according to the increasingly common definition of that term, in Chicago in just three days. The Windy City’s weekend violence has not received anywhere near the level of national attention that would have been generated had those “mass shootings” occurred at suburban high schools, malls, or movie theaters.
Calls for stricter gun-control laws follow every high-profile mass shooting; the weekend’s carnage in Chicago prompted similar demands from civic leaders and pundits. Yet the city has strict gun laws, and even when police enforce those laws diligently, the city’s liberal anti-gun caucus doesn’t always back them up. Consider the case of Harith Augustus, whom Chicago police approached on suspicion that he was unlawfully armed. Augustus resisted detainment and, as can be seen in the body cam video released by the city, grabbed for what turned out to be an illegally concealed firearm, prompting officers to fire their weapons, killing him. Though Augustus did not have a conceal-carry permit, and clearly reached for his weapon before officers opened fire, his death resulted in violent protests and articles characterizing Chicago as an “abusive police state.”
Another inconvenient fact that Chicago’s liberal critics of guns and police don’t talk about much is the rampant crime committed by repeat offenders. In all likelihood, the perpetrators of this weekend’s violence have extensive criminal records. It’s hard not to sympathize with the city’s top cop, Eddie Johnson, who last year told the Tribune, “it’s the repeat offenders that consistently come back in our neighborhoods and shoot and kill, and if we don’t send a message that we are serious about holding them accountable, then what are we doing?” Incarceration critics argue that lengthy sentences don’t deter crime or rehabilitate prisoners, but because so much violent crime is committed by recidivists, keeping dangerous felons off the street for as long as possible is a public-safety imperative.
According to a January 2017 study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, of those arrested for a homicide or shooting in Chicago in 2015 and 2016, “around 90 percent had at least one prior arrest, approximately 50 percent had a prior arrest for a violent crime specifically, and almost 40 percent had a prior gun arrest.” On average, someone arrested for a homicide or shooting had “nearly 12 prior arrests, with almost 45 percent having had more than 10 prior arrests, and almost 20 percent having had more than 20 prior arrests.” Longer terms in prison may not rehabilitate, but they incapacitate violent offenders and prevent them from committing more crime.
If Chicagoans are serious about responding to the ongoing bloodshed in their city, they should support the data-driven, proactive policing tactics that drove drastic crime declines in major cities like New York and Los Angeles. And, perhaps more importantly, as the cops do their part, lawmakers should consider how to change the justice system’s current practice of giving Windy City criminals second, third, and fourth chances.
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