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Violence In Chicago Escalates Over Labor Day Holiday Weekend

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And there was no letup in the violence in Chicago over the long Labor Day weekend. Sixty-five people were shot; 13 were killed - that in a city that has already experienced more homicides this year than New York and Los Angeles combined. Talking to reporters yesterday, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said what's happening in Chicago is, quote, "not a police issue. It's a society issue."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDDIE JOHNSON: I'm frustrated. The city should be frustrated, frustrated that the people who commit these crimes just don't care who their actions affect.

MONTAGNE: To get a better sense of what's happening there, we have Jeremy Gorner on the line. He's a crime reporter with the Chicago Tribune. Good morning.

JEREMY GORNER: Good morning. How are you, Renee?

MONTAGNE: Pretty good. What exactly did Chicago's police chief mean when he said police are not to blame for what's happening?

GORNER: Well, basically, Renee, what he was saying was that - he said that, you know, the violence out on Chicago's streets is not a police issue. It's a society issue. He seemed - he thinks strongly - he feels strongly that the police department is doing their job out there. They're doing all they can. They're doing their part to combat the violence. They're recovering more than 6,000 guns this year. They've made more gun arrests this year than last year and that the police are doing everything they can.

But a lot of the violence is caused by a lot of - social ills basically, you know, poverty, entrenched segregation, lack of investment in schools and other infrastructure in neighborhoods. You know, this is stuff that's been going on for decades on the south and west sides and in some neighborhoods in the south and west sides of the city where they are most beset by violence. That's what he was talking about.

MONTAGNE: Right, although, of course, now this spike in violence. I mean, I think this is - these are correct - 92 homicides in August, the most the city had seen in a single month since 1993.

GORNER: Right, right.

MONTAGNE: What is driving this upsurge in crime specifically? Is it different than previous years?

GORNER: It is different than previous years. And, you know, other cities have seen increases like this over the last year as well. It's really hard for anyone to put their finger on why. Of course, in Chicago, there's been some - you know, one thing - one possible cause, according to crime experts, is this amplified distrust between the police and the minority communities, particularly in African-American neighborhoods. A lot of this may have been touched off by the release last year of the Laquan McDonald video...

MONTAGNE: Which were - Laquan McDonnell was shot 16 times in this video.

GORNER: The officer who was involved in the shooting, Jason Van Dyke, he's been charged with murder. He's awaiting trial in that case. But why this has possibly had an impact is that you have a lot of other officers on the street who are normally aggressive fighting crime on the street, are - you know, many of them are no longer being aggressive, at least according to interviews that we've done with officers, for fear that they could become the next viral video, for fear that, you know, in the course of their duties they could get sued, they could get fired.

Of course, the police department officially has said that - has acknowledged that, yeah, police morale has been - has been low as a result of the Laquan video. But at the same time, they're not too concerned about officers lying down on the job if, you know, they're citing increases in gun arrests. They're seeing increases in gun recoveries, you know.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask you, though, where is Mayor Rahm Emanuel in all of this? He's been criticized.

GORNER: He's been criticized because it's been - there was a sentiment, you know, out there that his office was trying to suppress the release of the video, basically coming out with the line that, oh, the case is still under investigation. We're going to withhold it because of that. But while at the same time, you're having a lot of transparency advocates out there saying, no, there's no reason why the video shouldn't be released.

MONTAGNE: Chicago Tribune reporter Jeremy Gorner, thank you.

GORNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.