Pleading for peace in Chicago amid fears of a bloody summer

Chicago’s police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, center, at a gathering on Friday that was part of the city’s Summer of Faith and Action initiative. “I think you all know how important this weekend is,” he told his top command staff on the eve of Memorial Day weekend. (Photo credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

By Monica Davey and Mitch Smith,

During Memorial Day weekend, this city reopens its Lake Michigan beaches, regular fireworks displays start at Navy Pier, and the downtown streets and spruced-up Riverwalk are crowded with tourists.

But the holiday weekend is often seen here as the start of heightened violence as well. That has been particularly worrying this year to community leaders and city officials, as they grapple with a rise in gun violence that has traumatized some neighborhoods and left city officials searching for new ways to subdue street crime.

“If something doesn’t change, if we don’t get jobs for these kids, if we don’t change the economic situation, I’m worried that we could be looking at a blood bath,” said the Rev. Corey Brooks, a pastor on the city’s South Side, a mostly African-American area where some of the shootings have been concentrated. “If something doesn’t happen, I fear that we’re potentially looking at one of the worst summers we’ve ever had.”

As of Friday morning, homicides in Chicago were up 52 percent in 2016, compared with the same period a year ago, and shootings had increased by 50 percent, though the pace of violence had slowed in recent weeks, the police said. Only five months into the year, at least 233 people had been killed.

Officials are struggling with the problem and are using a range of strategies as the murder rate in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, outpaces that of New York and Los Angeles.

Over the weekend, the Chicago police increased the number of officers on the streets. About a week after a gang sweep that led to the arrests of 140 people, the police said they planned to have extra foot patrols in parks and neighborhoods and more officers on bicycles. They are also using social media to track potentially troublesome house parties.

“I think you all know how important this weekend is,” the police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, said on Friday afternoon at a meeting with his top command staff.

On Friday evening, people gathered at more than 100 gymnasiums, parks and churches around the city to call for gang members and others to stop the violence that has long plagued some Chicago neighborhoods. The activities were the start of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s third annual Summer of Faith and Action initiative, which promotes safety and urges people to put down their guns.


“If we all come together and reclaim our streets, reclaim our parks, there’s no room for the gangbangers,” Mr. Emanuel said, stopping by one of the gatherings on Friday night on the Southwest Side, where people played basketball and painted murals.

“I would also say to the gangbangers what Eddie Johnson said,” Mr. Emanuel said, referring to his recently appointed superintendent. “There’s a small percentage creating an overabundance of the gun violence. The Police Department knows who you are. They know where you live. And they know what you’re doing.”


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