Nerve Centers / Becoming A Man

771 people were murdered in the City of Chicago in 2016. The number dropped to 650 in 2017, a significant reduction of roughly 16%. Shooting incidents were down from 3,550 to 2,785 over the same time period. The Chicago Police Department attributes this drop in crime to new smart policing strategies driven by six new Strategic Decision Support Centers throughout the city. These data driven “nerve centers” have allowed officers to respond more quickly to shootings, leading to higher arrest rates and fewer getaways. The nerve centers also contain technology that helps officers predict where the next incident may occur. In the districts where these centers were launched, murders and shooting incidents decreased by about 25%, according to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

The credit for this reduction in violence (as modest as it is), can also be attributed to community efforts like the organization Youth Guidance’s Becoming a Man (BAM) program, which has been able to cut violent crime arrests in half and boost high school graduation rates by 20% for participating youth. BAM participants meet four times a month for an hour long session where students talk with a counselor about their personal challenges and work on ways to regulate their emotions. They also work on building trust with their peers, and reinforcing shared values. Participation in BAM is growing as Chicago Public Schools try to scale up the program as part of the city’s violence reduction strategy. Last year, there were 4,000 young men participating in the program citywide. In 2018, that number is expected to grow to 8,000.

Certainly the one year reduction in violence is good news, and one hopes that shooting incidents continue to decline in the coming years, but 650 murders in a single city can hardly be a cause for celebration. Behind these statistics is a sickness that is shockingly common and perversely tolerated in our society; so long as the back and forth cycle of violence stays within poor neighborhoods and communities of color, it is accepted as routine. Outsiders placate their consciences by blaming the mostly young men for their involvement in gang activity, and go about their day. It is only when a bright young student or a white tourist falls victim that the outside world notices the grinding injustice of fear, hatred, and despair that is consuming entire communities around the country.

Data driven policing and community based programs like BAM are a great start for the city of Chicago, and there is an urgent need for these sorts of prevention programs in communities around the country. City officials in Chicago should continue to scale up these important programs and officials around the country should replicate them in their own cities and towns. There is no room for complacence; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The life of a child born in Lincoln Park is exactly equal to that of a child born in Fuller Park. May 2018 be the year we recall that basic truth.

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