“The public-housing and school policies did a lot to undermine the fabric of marginalized communities on the South and West Sides of Chicago. That unraveling of the fabric continues to drive the desperation, the depression, the self-medication that contributes to a lot of this violence,” says Lance Williams, assistant director of the Jacob C. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.
School closings in impoverished neighborhoods and the increased push for privately operated charter schools became a major issue of contention during the public-teacher strike in September. The Emanuel administration has long said that while facing a ballooning budget deficit, it can’t afford to operate so many schools, especially those where student populations are dwindling.
Homicides in Chicago attracted national media attention early this summer when 7-year-old Heaven Sutton became the city’s 251st fatality, killed by a random bullet while operating her front-lawn candy stand on the city’s West Side. Mayor Emanuel and police superintendent Garry McCarthy blamed the growing violence on neighborhood gang factions, which they say are responsible for 80 percent of the shootings.
Gang factions are small groups that have splintered from the monolithic, often historic, crime organizations that date back decades. As many as 600 factions exist today, the Chicago Police Department says. Moreover, Chicago has surpassed Los Angeles in total gang membership and activity, crime experts say.