The challenge facing Chicago remains clear after the long Fourth of July weekend saw 66 people shot, five fatally — yet those numbers were actually good by comparison with recent Independence Day weekends.
Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson took no solace in that fact, lamenting on Monday the violence over the four-day weekend as he returned to a familiar refrain at a news conference by blaming the criminal justice system for quickly freeing too many people caught illegally carrying guns.
“As a black man who grew up in public housing in the city of Chicago, trust me: I understand the stranglehold that gangs have over certain neighborhoods, and I understand because I lived it,” Johnson told reporters at police headquarters. “I also understand the struggle, challenges and lack of opportunities when you grow up in certain neighborhoods in Chicago if you look a certain way.
“But despite all of that, there are still no excuses or justifiable reasons for carrying illegal guns,” he said.
During the extended weekend from 6 p.m. Wednesday to midnight Sunday, gun violence claimed 66 victims, five of whom died, official Chicago police statistics showed. A sixth person was beaten to death in a domestic incident, police said.
Nearly half of the shooting victims were struck by gunfire over an 18-hour span from about noon Thursday to dawn Friday, a period when at least 31 people were shot, three of them fatally.
The victims ranged in age from a 14-year-old girl shot in the South Side’s Calumet Heights community to a 65-year-old man wounded in a double shooting in the West Side’s Austin community.
A dozen of those hit by gunfire were women, two of them fatally. Akeelah Addison, 22, was gunned down at a Fourth of July party early Friday morning in the South Side’s Fuller Park community, just a week after her aunt, Felon Smith, was fatally struck by a train while retrieving her cellphone at a CTA Red Line stop.
A front-page Chicago Tribune story late last month noted that the percentage of female shooting victims has steadily risen each of the past five years to about 13.5% through June 25, up sharply from the comparable period in 2015, when women accounted for 8.5% of all shootings.
The Fourth of July weekend can be the most violent time in the city. This holiday weekend actually marked an improvement over the last two times the Fourth weekend lasted four days. In 2017, more than 100 people were shot, 15 fatally, while in 2013, at least 74 were shot, 12 fatally.
Even in 2014, when the Fourth of July was only a three-day weekend, at least 82 were shot, 14 fatally.
Ahead of this year’s holiday, Johnson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a strategy that included ramping up cops on the streets by 1,500 and confiscating weapons from those with expired firearm owner’s identification cards.
“We’ll never be able to measure how many lives they’ve saved or shootings that they actually prevent,” Johnson said Monday of his officers. “While others were enjoying barbecues and pool parties, these officers were responding to calls in the summer heat. Many had their days off canceled and worked 12 to 14 hours each day.”
The gunfire was mainly contained to the South and West sides, with the Englewood District seeing the most violence: 13 shooting victims, eight of them from just two separate shootings early Sunday.
The mayor made an appearance at an Englewood District’s roll call for officers late Friday, according to a tweet from Chicago police. Afterward she briefly rode in a marked squad car “to see firsthand how the officers and the residents of Englewood interact,” the tweet said.
On Monday, Johnson stuck by familiar talking points, blaming the criminal justice system for failing to hold gun offenders accountable — a factor he considers a main driver of Chicago’s violence.
Between last Wednesday and Friday, 42 people were charged with felony gun-related offenses, he said, but only 15 remain in custody.
That lack of accountability for gun offenders has damaged the Police Department’s relationship with the communities most beset by violence, Johnson said, making victims of crimes less likely to cooperate with officers.
“We have to give those witnesses a sense that we will protect them, and we have to give them a sense that there’s a certainty that those individuals will be held accountable,” he said.
But Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office recently commissioned a study showing that felony defendants released on bail rarely picked up a new charge of violence. From October 2017 through December 2018, fewer than 150 of about 24,000 Cook County defendants released from custody — about 0.6% — were charged with a new violent offense, the study found.
Among the mayhem this Fourth of July weekend, a bogus report of gunfire at the Navy Pier fireworks Thursday night sparked a “stampede” that injured more than a dozen people. The scare came after a brawl at the pier left three people stabbed, two of them 14-year-old boys.
On Monday, Johnson said no one was in custody for the stabbings.
“The stabbings resulted from some gang-affiliated people taunting each other,” he said. “The victims were very uncooperative.”
During an evening news conference with Johnson after their weekly meeting to address crime-fighting strategies, Lightfoot echoed the police superintendent’s frequent criticism that the Cook County judicial system lets too many gun offenders out on bond.
“It’s not about mass incarceration. It’s not about having quotas. But when somebody has a demonstrated track record of being a violent gun offender, that should say something to the judges who are making decisions about bail. They shouldn’t be out on the street,” Lightfoot said. “We can’t keep our communities safe if people just keep cycling through the system because what that says to them is, I can do whatever I want, I can carry whatever I want, I can shoot up a crowd and I’m going to be back on the street. How does that make sense? It doesn’t.”
Lightfoot said it’s important to keep gun offenders locked up so that “victims recognize the criminal justice system is actually working for them” and officers know that their hard work is being recognized by judges. Lightfoot said she wants to speak with the Cook County chief judge and head of the criminal courts about the importance of keeping violent gun offenders off the streets.
Responding to a question about the nature of city violence, whether it’s societal or concentrated in a small group of people who keep getting into trouble, Lightfoot said it’s a combination and noted that some neighborhoods have “underlying issues.”
“Austin is Austin. Austin is, if you look at the demographic information, it’s got high unemployment rates, it’s got high poverty rates, it’s got high concentration of people that are on public assistance, and then just looking at the geography there, there’s not a lot of economic activity that’s going on,” Lightfoot said. “That is something that as a city we have to take on and we have to address. Because I can send 10,000 officers to the West Side, if we don’t address those underlying challenges, which we must, we’re not going to solve the problem.”
Johnson added, “The mayor is spot on with that.”
(Chicago Tribune’s Madeline Buckley contributed to this report.)
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