Exploring Chicago's Gang Problem

As the third largest city in the United States, it is not surprising that Chicago’s crime rate is higher than smaller, less urban cities and town across the country. But what is alarming is the fact that the rate of violent crimes and murders in Chicago is substantially higher than the rates in New York City and Los Angeles, and many officials attribute that to a gang problem that has not been properly addressed.

How Public Housing Decisions Contributed to an Increase in Violence by Chicago Street Gangs

For many years Chicago had a number of high rise public housing projects in low income neighborhoods. City policy dictated that these housing projects be used for non-working and extremely poor families. It was estimated that 92% of the people living in Chicago housing projects received government assistance. The Chicago high rise housing projects are often compared to the New York housing projects; NYC had a set of different policies. In NYC housing projects at the time were economically integrated, and the number of welfare recipients was much lower. Eventually, many of the areas in and around the housing projects of NYC experienced gentrification and in turn gang violence dropped.

Facing criticism about the state of its housing projects, Chicago demolished the high rises that were home to many disadvantaged families, displacing residents and forcing them to move to smaller housing projects around the city. Many of the people living in the high rise housing projects lived in poverty and were already involved with gangs. These people were eventually moved to other areas that were controlled by rival gangs or neutral. Violence among rival gangs skyrocketed due to the change in public housing policy, and neutral neighborhoods have seen a steep rise in gang violence due to the influx of gang members living in the new housing projects.

A Main Distribution Point for Mexican Drug Trafficking

As Mexican drug cartels have grown stronger and extended their reach, Chicago has become a major distribution point for drugs. Many street gangs make a large majority of their money by distributing and selling drugs, so there is fierce rivalry between gangs for territory and access to the cartels providing the drugs.

Influx of L.A.-Based Gangs Gaining a Foothold in Chicago

With the increased amount of drugs coming through Chicago, it wasn’t long before L.A.-based gangs such as the Bloods, Crips, MS-13, and Surenos set up operation in the city to increase their revenue through drug trafficking. Some of these gangs have a long history of being rivals, and they also had to contend with the gangs that were already established in Chicago. Considering the high levels of tension and the competition between gangs for drugs and money, it is not a surprise that gang violence has exploded into a huge problem.

Lack of Discipline

While some well-established gangs in Chicago, like the Latin Kings, have a very strict hierarchy and leadership protocol, many other gangs have seen their leaders arrested and incarcerated. While it is a victory for law enforcement to put gang kingpins behind bars, it results in new gang members climbing the ranks to leadership. Ironically, many law enforcement officials say that older gang leaders that are now in prison demanded respect and discipline from gang members, a trait that newer gang leaders on the street don’t have. This results in more reckless and violent behave between rival gangs, as well as infighting within gangs.

Chicago Gangs by the Numbers

The most recent statistics available suggest that Chicago is home to 29 different street gangs, with as many as 625 sub-gangs. It is estimated that the city has at least 125,000 gang members living in it, and that number is only expected to rise as more gangs based in other major cities further expand into Chicago.

As of the beginning of September of 2015, New York City recorded 239 murders while Los Angeles reported 201. By comparison, Chicago recorded 325 murders in the city during the same time period. That is a 20% increase in murders compared to the previous year, and the number is alarming considering how much smaller the population is in Chicago compared to L.A. or NYC. Officials believe that Chicago’s street gang problem plays a big part in the increase in violence and murder rates, and they are now scrambling to implement some of the policies that helped NYC and L.A. deal with their gang problems in the past.