IT’S a popular city dotted with skyscrapers, hugged by beautiful parks and brightened up with famous artworks, but it also has a darker side.
More than 55 million tourists flocked to Chicago in 2017, hitting a record high amid a tourism push.
And many of them were Australians. Skyscanner.com.au has seen 34 per cent year-on-year increase in flight searches from Australia to Chicago, according to its latest figures, suggesting more interest in the Windy City from Aussie travellers.
And there’s been a 9 per cent year-on-year increase in actual bookings to Chicago, mainly by people in Sydney and Melbourne.
And soon, Australians could be heading over in droves with Qantas announcing earlier this year that it is evaluating direct flights from Australia to Chicago as part of its ultra-haul push.
However, while more people than ever are heading to the “windy city”, there’s a sinister statistic they should be aware of: 2303. That’s the staggering number of people who have been shot so far this year on the city’s streets. What’s more, many were random hits, occurring amid ongoing gang rivalry.
And if you can believe it, this is actually a decrease on last year’s shooting figures — which totalled 2895. In 2016, the bloodshed was even worse, at 3281, according to statistics obtained by the Chicago Tribune.
An extremely high profile case at the moment that highlights the issue of needless bloodshed on the streets is one involving a police officer who shot a teenager.
Jason Van Dyke, 40, has today been convicted of second-degree murder over the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Horrifying police dashcam footage captured the moment McDonald crumpling to the ground after being hit with 16 bullets as he walked away carrying a knife. The video stoked outrage nationwide and put Chicago at the centre of the debate about police misconduct and use of force. It also sparking an inquiry into the Chicago Police Department.
Van Dyke was the first Chicago officer to be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting in about 50 years.
SHOOTINGS ROCK THE STREETS
Local Carlil Pittman, 25, told ABC’s 7.30 that life in Chicago, one of the deadliest cities in the country, is a dangerous reality for many. He says that some teenagers are so concerned for their own safety that they carry guns to school.
“This is not life. This is not normal,” Mr Pittman said. “We have so many young people that normalise that trauma. They hear gunshots, and they keep walking.”
Most of the violence takes place of the outskirts of the city, so many tourists wouldn’t even be aware that it’s happening.
“There are two sides to Chicago, there’s the downtown tourist attraction where everything looks nice,” Mr Pittman said.
“Then there are the people who are, every day, living with gun violence.”
A recent case highlights the gun violence epidemic. Last month, Delmonte Johnson was playing basketball when he was shot in the chest and stomach during a drive-by, and later died in hospital.
He had just turned 19, and was an activist who hoped to stem gun violence in his hometown.
“I laid next to my brother when he was dying in my hands,” Johnson’s devastated brother Devirgo said.
His death came during a brutal weekend that saw at least 40 people blasted with bullets in the city.
Meanwhile, a dispute earlier this week involving a moving car ended in a car crashing and rolling over, with “multiple men” shot.
“Three male individuals were walking eastbound on 91st St, a vehicle approached those subjects, subject got out of the vehicle and fired multiple times striking all three,” Chicago Police Chief Fred Waller said.
The afternoon shooting occurred about four blocks from where a 21-year-old man was shot earlier in the day.
And in August, there was a period of three days where 66 people were shot, 12 fatally.
CHICAGO ISN’T ALONE IN THE BLOODSHED
On the weekend, the FBI released new statistics that placed Baltimore’s homicide rate well above that of any other large American metropolis.
The 342 homicides notched last year in Maryland’s biggest city yielded a punishing homicide rate of 56 per 100,000 people, according to the FBI’s annual Crime In The United States report.
Baltimore had a total of 342 slayings, with roughly 615,000 inhabitants. The per capita rate was a record high for the city.
Among major US cities, the next highest in the annual tally were Detroit, with a homicide rate of 40 per 100,000 people; Memphis, Tennessee, with a rate of 28 per 100,000; and Chicago, with a rate of 24 per 100,000.
However, some smaller cities reported a higher homicide rate than Baltimore’s. St Louis, Missouri, with a population slightly over 300,000, had a rate of 66 murders per 100,000 people.
Overall, the FBI says the national violent crime rate decreased by 0.2 per cent from 2016 to last year, making Baltimore’s record tally stand out even more for large urban centres.
In comparison, Houston, with over 2 million residents, had a rate of 12 homicides per 100,000 people, and Boston, with fewer than 700,000 residents, had eight slayings per 100,000.
Violent crime rates in Baltimore have been notoriously high for years. In recent decades, the city’s gritty realities helped make it the setting for hard-boiled crime shows such as The Wire.
Baltimore’s leaders are hopeful this year could mark somewhat of a turnaround. So far in 2018, crime is declining, with homicides down about 16 per cent compared to the same stretch of time last year.
Killings are down by over 30 per cent in some troubled neighbourhoods where authorities are focusing attention, according to City Hall.
“One murder in Baltimore is one murder too many. But I am convinced that by addressing the root causes that give rise to hopelessness and eventually to criminal activity, we will make Baltimore safer for all residents,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said.
— with AP