Updated Aug. 31, 2016 8:22 p.m. ET
CHICAGO—The number of shooting deaths here has surpassed the total for last year with four months still to go, in a bloody 2016 in which Chicago has outpaced most major U.S. cities in homicides.
Police are stepping up efforts to confiscate illegal firearms from the streets, and the state recently passed a law toughening penalties for gun trafficking, but the moves so far seem to be having little effect, with this August shaping up to be the most violent in almost two decades.
By Wednesday morning, 425 people had been fatally shot so far this year in Chicago—accounting for 91% of the total murders in the city. In all of 2015, 424 people were killed by gun shots, with a total of 493 homicides. By the end of the year, gun-related deaths are set to reach highs not seen since the early 2000s.
“This is a national emergency,” said Eric Russell, a community activist from the Tree of Life Justice League, a Chicago-based group which helps to fight gun violence, referring to this past month’s violence as “total carnage.”
Chicago police said the staggering number of violent crimes here underscores the urgency of getting illegal guns off the street and toughening penalties for using a firearm in commission of a crime.
“The violence we are seeing is being committed by repeat offenders who do not fear the consequences of their actions, because too frequently they are not held accountable by the rest of the criminal justice system,” said police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, calling for legislation to “send a clear message that if you bring violence into our communities, you will be held fully accountable.”
Last week, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation raising the maximum sentence for bringing guns illegally into the state to 30 years.
In the first half of this year, homicides jumped 15% in the 51 large cities that submitted crime data, compared with the same year-ago period, according to a July survey released by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. But over half of that increase was driven by spikes in Chicago and Orlando, where Omar Mateen fatally shot 49 people at a nightclub in June.
So far this year New York City has seen 227 homicides, down seven from the same period last year—and a little more than half the number of homicides in Chicago, even though it’s three times Chicago’s size. Only 134 of the murders in New York—less than 60%—involved firearms.
The Chicago police have seized over 5,890 guns so far this year, effectively one gun confiscated per hour and about a 22% increase from the number seized last year.
Among the recent victims was Nykea Aldridge, cousin of Chicago Bulls star Dwyane Wade, killed Friday while she was pushing one of her children in a stroller after enrolling another in school. Two brothers charged by police over the homicide had both been arrested before, one on a gun-related offense, and were out on parole at the time of the shooting. The two are being held without bail and haven’t entered a plea.
The shooting sparked a tweet from Republican president candidate Donald Trump . “Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP,” he wrote.
Mr. Johnson said in response that if Mr. Trump had a “magic bullet” to stop violence, he should share it with the police.
“We as a city must come together to support families whose loved ones have been lost to gun violence,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking at a recent funeral of the son of a police officer, who was killed on his porch during a visit home from college. “No gang member with a gun is stronger than the sense of community in this room.”
Philip Banks, the former top uniformed officer at the New York Police Department, stresses that any police chief needs to discuss strategies with affected communities and seek their opinions on how their tactics can be more effective.
“You have to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself—are you trying to win this battle alone,” he said. “And if you are, you are going to have some success, but you aren’t going to reach the finish line.”
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Tags: Chicago, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago police, confiscate illegal firearms, criminal justice system, gun violence, Illinois, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Nykea Aldridge, Obama, Philip Banks, Rahm Emanuel, shooting deaths, shooting deaths in Chicago, toughening penalties for trafficking, Tree of Life Justice League, violent crimes