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How Chicago Became Chiraq

Dana E. Brede

Navy Pier. Hot dogs. Architecture. Italian beef. Deep dish pizza. Portillo’s. Monsters of the Midway or DA BEARS. Lake Shore Drive. The Taste. The Blues Brothers. The Bean. These are all terms that are merely my own personal euphemisms for the nation’s third largest city, my hometown, Chicago. While I haven’t lived in the Windy City for over a decade, I still feel deeply connected and attached to the place where so many of my past memories were made. That being said—perhaps I had a more romanticized experience and impression of the city as it is difficult to think of Chicago’s notorious crime statistics while walking through the Lincoln Park Zoo, exploring the Shed Aquarium or visiting my family. The harsh reality is that coupled with the nostalgic and enchanting things that make Chicago great to me is a reported crime rate that has sparked a wide-spread new nickname—“Chiraq” as well as a newly formed federal violent crimes unit.

The term embodies the “war zone” perception that civilians in the roughest neighborhoods of Chicago live with every day. NeighborhoodScout, a real estate blog, utilizing FBI data from over 17,000 local law enforcement agencies in America, created a report that highlighted the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States. In 2013, Chicago's Auburn Gresham neighborhood made #4 on the list. The report indicated that there was a 1 in 9 chance of being a victim of violent crime.i

Moreover, the moniker stems from a comparison of Chicago to Iraq as the Department of Defense reported a total of 4,410 deaths of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2012ii and the Chicago Police Murder Report, during that same timeframe, reported a total of 4, 265 murders its city limits.iii Note: these figures do not take into account the statistics of traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, amputations or any injuries. On the basis of fatalities alone, “Chiraq” has compared life in Englewood or the Auburn Gresham neighborhoods to be synonymous with Baghdad or Ramadi, and whether you agree or disagree with the term, it does raise awareness to the living conditions for civilians in those neighborhoods.

“Chiraq” remains, at best, a controversial moniker as the murder rate has, in fact, significantly improved over the course of the past 23 years. For example: in 1991 there were 928 murders in Chicagoiv. Easter weekend this year did little to convey to the country that Chicago’s murder rate is declining as at least nine people were killed and at least thirty-six were wounded in Chicago over the Easter weekend. This ultimately prompted a newly formed federal unit to step in to help tackle the city’s pervasive culture of gun violence.v

Chicago’s police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, admitted that despite the decrease in violent crimes that the Easter weekend shootings were part of a “very bad week.” He, along with the city's mayor, continued to push for assistance from the federal governmentvi and in response the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that it would step up its efforts to diminish violent crime in Chicago in the form of a specialized new crime fighting unit. The federal unit is staffed by more than a dozen prosecutors tasked with using federal law as their crime-fighting weapon.vii Only time will tell how Chicago’s law enforcement officers, with the help of these prosecutors, will be able to suppress the gang and gun violence throughout Chicago. Noticeable improvement in the areas that are experiencing the higher rates of violent crime is not going to happen overnight.

I would love to hear your input and feedback. My e-mail is dbrede@regis.edu. I would like to take this blog one step further and leave you with a few questions:

  • What are your thoughts and impressions of the term “Chiraq” and the crime rate in Chicago?
  • Do you think it is a fair comparison for U.S. soldiers who actually served in Iraq?
  • Will the increase in conceal and carry permits increase the murder rate or suppress it?
  • Why did it take so long for the feds to respond to the plea for help to alleviate the gang and gun violence throughout Chicago?
  • What do you think their role will look like?

The complete list of murder reports for the city of Chicago can be found at: https://portal.chicagopolice.org/portal/page/portal/ClearPath/News/Statistical%20Reports/Murder%20Reports

To see how your neighborhood compares, go to http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/

Learn more about the Human Behavior degree within the Master of Science in Criminology program by requesting more information or calling 877-820-0581.

iN.A. (2013). NeighborhoodScout's ® Top 25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America – 2013. Retrieved on April 26, 2014 from http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/neighborhoods/crime-rates/25-most-dangerous-neighborhoods2013/

iiFischer, H. (February 19, 2014). A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved on April 26, 2014 from http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf

iiiN.A. (2012) Chicago Murder Analysis: 2011. Retrieved on April 26, 2014 from https://portal.chicagopolice.org/portal/page/portal/ClearPath/News/Statistical%20Reports/Murder%20Reports/MA11.pdf

ivN.A. (2012) Chicago Murder Analysis: 2011. Retrieved on April 26, 2014 from https://portal.chicagopolice.org/portal/page/portal/ClearPath/News/Statistical%20Reports/Murder%20Reports/MA11.pdf

vLiljas, P. (April 22, 2014). Feds Step In After 45 People Shot in Chicago Over Easter Weekend. Time. Retrieved on April 26, 2014 from http://time.com/71446/chicago-gun-violence-easter-weekend-45-people-shot/

viCorley, C. (April 25, 2014). After Violent Weekend, Feds Create Unit To Combat Chicago Crime. NPR. Retrieved on April 26, 2014 from http://www.npr.org/2014/04/25/306522192/after-violent-weekend-feds-create-unit-to-combat-chicago-crime

viiLee, T. (April 22, 2014) A Bloody Easter in Chicago Ushers in a New Federal Crime Unit. MSNBC. Retrieved on April 26, 2014 from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/spike-violent-crime-triggers-crackdown