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Exploring The Roots Of The Violence In Chicago


The city of Chicago has begun the year with yet another increase in homicides. At least 10 people were killed in recent days, and I'm going to read just a few names. Angel Ortiz, 51, was shot through the window when someone fired bullets into the bar where he worked. Petro Rymar was stabbed to death in his shop. Demetrius Tolliver, 23, a former high school basketball star, was shot in the chest on the street. Brion Barlow was 31, the father of three, and shot outside a restaurant. Cashes McCree was 19 and was riding his bicycle when two men opened fire. Each of the deaths seems utterly senseless. Going to turn now to Natalie Moore. She is chief of the South Side Bureau for WBEZ, our station in Chicago, and author of a new book, "The South Side: A Portrait Of Chicago And American Segregation." Natalie, thanks very much for being with us.

NATALIE MOORE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: A point you make in your book is homicides are actually down in Chicago compared to a generation ago.

MOORE: Yeah, the thing about numbers is it's very easy to get caught up in what would happen this time last year, what happened this time last month. And I'm not saying that no one should ever look at numbers, but there also has to be a long view to look at trends.

And I totally understand telling people that 20 years ago, murders were close to double what they are now doesn't help a grieving family. But violence is a symptom of problems that are happening in these neighborhoods. If you look at the common denominator in places where we do see the most acute violence, these are segregated neighborhoods on the South and West Side of Chicago where poverty is high and unemployment is high and there's a lack of resources in those neighborhoods.

SIMON: It must be asked in Chicago, what have some of the political consequences been of not only the increase in violence, but questions about police conduct obviously?

MOORE: So there are a couple of things going on in Chicago right now. Trust between the police department and the communities is very low. And Mayor Rahm Emmanuel fired Garry McCarthy, the police chief, last year and just recently he named an interim police chief.

SIMON: After setting aside the three finalists that were recommended by his own police board.

MOORE: Right. And he's an African-American 27-year vet, Eddie Johnson, and he used to be a commander on the South Side. He did build trust. Although he did say something curious recently at a press conference, that in his 27 years he's never witnessed police misconduct. And for many, that's a pretty hard statement to believe, that being in the trenches that long, you've never seen anything. And I think that's eroded some of his credibility among residents who want to see a shift in the culture.

SIMON: There you are in the South Side, day after day. I wonder if you can share any stories with us that maybe you've reported about what life is like.

MOORE: You know, life is also beautiful on the South Side. What we tend to hear is just about the crime and the mayhem. There is just also a certain amount of mundaneness on the South Side. You know, there are people who are going to work, trying to start their own businesses, trying to improve their communities. You know, right now, a big thing that's going on is the hundredth anniversary of the Great Migration. And that brought 500,000 African-Americans from the South between 1916 in 1970.

That changed the face of Chicago. It changed the entire city with food and culture and literature and music. And I think in this next year, there's going to be a lot of celebration. But there's also going to be a lot of reflection because, you know, some of the roots of black Chicago's problems start with the Great Migration because the political power did everything they could to try to keep African-Americans confined. We still see that lingering effect today

SIMON: Natalie Moore of Chicago's WBEZ - her new book, "The South Side: A Portrait Of Chicago And American Segregation." Thanks so much for being with us.

MOORE: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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