CHICAGO – Chicago saw its deadliest Memorial Day weekend for gun violence since 2015, a jarring reminder that even a coronavirus pandemic and a statewide stay-at-home order cannot halt shootings in the city.
"The violence throughout the city on Memorial Day weekend was nothing short of alarming,” Chicago police Superintendent David Brown told the media Tuesday after the first major test of his tenure as the city's top officer ended with 49 people being shot, 10 of them fatally.
The weekend highlighted that even as the pandemic has many people staying home, homicides in the nation's three largest cities have been on the rise.
According to Chicago police crime statistics posted online, between Jan. 1 and May 24, the nation's third-largest city had 200 homicides, compared with 176 during the same period last year. The number of shootings climbed from 679 to 826. However, the number of criminal sexual assaults, burglaries and thefts all fell by double digits.
The statistics largely mirror what police in Los Angeles and New York have reported. In both cities, the number of homicides has increased so far this year while the number of sexual assaults has fallen.
The 10 homicides in Chicago that happened from Friday evening to early Tuesday morning were more than the city has seen for the same holiday weekend of the last four years, according to data maintained by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. In 2015, 12 people were killed over the holiday weekend.
Brown, who was sworn in as police chief last month, said most of this weekend's violence involved rival gangs and clashes over the sale of illegal drugs.
“The effects of the coronavirus also go beyond hospitalizations,” he said. “People are feeling restless after being cooped up for weeks.”
Wesley Skogan, who studies crime and law enforcement at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, said he wasn't surprised that the virus was not ending gang violence.
“They (gangs) are not particularly deterred by the risks of being out there,” Skogan said. “Of all the things they are likely to be worried about COVID is way down the list.”
Chicago police issued approximately 300 group dispersal orders each day of the long weekend. At one large gathering where gunfire was heard, police made two arrests and seized two guns. Overall during the weekend, police took possession of a total of 216 firearms — 68 more, Brown said, than officers recovered over the same period last year.
Brown said there were fewer officers on the street this year, but that they were “coordinated a little better.” However, Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted more officers were out over the holiday. Neither gave exact figures.
Lightfoot said she had already expressed her disappointment to Brown.
“Whatever the strategy was, it didn’t work,” she said.
Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Mich. Associated Press reporter Kathleen Foody contributed from Chicago.