Chicago’s deadly summer: guns, gangs and the legacy of racial inequality

In a city torn by gun violence, many say the crisis is inseparable from a history of segregation and systemic neglect

By  David Taylor in Chicago | The Guardian | August 12, 2018


A young black woman in shorts and a cropped white top decorated with a purple sequined dollar sign spins and pouts for her own camera as a rapper sings “you ain’t gonna see me fall”. Then the shooting starts.

More than 30 shots rattle from what sounds like at least one semi-automatic gun as the video degenerates into blurred images of grass and concrete while the woman holding the camera phone runs for her life. Within a minute she is inside an apartment – she has a leg injury and a distressed cry can be heard: “My babe has been shot!”

The video captures the chaotic moments of a hot summer night when 17-year-old Jahnae Patterson was shot and killed last Sunday at an early hours block party on the West side of Chicago during the city’s worst outbreak of gun violence for two years. The Chicago police department recorded 70 shootings and 16 murders across the city from Monday 30 July to Sunday 5 August, reaching a terrifying crescendo as 40 people were shot during seven hours last Sunday.

Chicago has become synonymous with gun violence in recent years. Last month, thousands of Chicagoprotesters shut down a major highway to call for stronger gun laws. And last year, President Donald Trump exploited the city’s woes to condemn Democrats and declared last year he was “sending in Federal help” to tackle the problem, which in practice meant sending a team of 20 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) who had been already requested by the city during the last months of the Obama administration.

Though murders have actually fallen by 20% year on year, Chicago – where gun sales are banned, but weapons still flow in from surrounding states – is out of step with safer cities like New York and Los Angeles. And while shootings are down 17% compared to this point in 2017, they are 22% up on 2014.

Police have so far announced no arrests after last week’s violence, but have responded with an extra 600 officers on duty in five neighbourhoods and a warning that for the next month, police will break up unsanctioned street parties.

Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who said people would be given the chance to leave before they are arrested, told a press conference: “A lot of those gatherings probably had a gang nexus to it and rival gangs saw them out there … and unfortunately, in a lot of instances they don’t care who they shoot.”

Jahnae Patterson was shot in the face and pronounced dead in hospital within an hour. “Pray for our city, my baby is gone,” her mother, Tanika Humphries, wrote on Facebook about the loss of her eldest daughter.

Standing at a stretch of wire fencing amongst the forlorn remnants of a candlelit vigil for Jahnae, her cousin Meka Dixon played the video on her phone, which had been sent to her on social media by another girl who was at the party.

Paying tribute to the girl everyone called Nae Nae, she said: “She was everybody’s favourite cousin, a respectful little girl. She was always around kids, she wanted to be a nurse. It was devastating for our family, we never had no one in our family hit by a killing. She was only 17 and still had so much life to live.”