Hours after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on federal authorities to help Chicago in curbing gun violence, the city experienced its third mass shooting in just four days.
“Unfortunately, Chicago is not unique,” Lightfoot said early on Tuesday. “We are part of a club of cities to which no one wants to belong: cities with mass shootings.”
But a WBEZ analysis of mass shootings suggests that Chicago is, in fact, unique for its frequency and volume of mass shootings. Defining such incidents as those involving at least four shooting victims or deaths — excluding the shooter — the city has seen 124 such events since Jan. 1, 2019. That’s at least twice as many as the city with the second-highest tally, Philadelphia. Despite media coverage of shootings in Chicago, this fact is rarely highlighted.
For the analysis, WBEZ used data from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a nonprofit research group that compiles information from several sources about gun-related activity, as well as from the Chicago Police Department. While data from the GVA show that mass shootings drastically spiked across the nation during the pandemic, particularly over the warmer months of June through September, Chicago continues to outpace other large cities.
The analysis shows that Chicago is averaging just under one mass shooting per week since the start of 2019. In all, 82 people have been killed and another 535 have been shot or injured. A map of those incidents shows that they are clustered in the city’s historically disinvested South and West sides. And among the cases where the Chicago Police Department has identified the race of mass shooting victims, more than 82% were Black, according to the analysis.
“It’s happening in mostly Black neighborhoods,” said Lakeidra Chavis, a reporter with The Trace, a nonprofit journalism organization that covers gun violence. “Generally, it’s in the news for about a couple days after it happens. And then it goes away.”
A study by Stanford researchers last year found that shooting victims in non-white neighborhoods of Chicago tended to receive less media coverage than those in predominantly white neighborhoods. Additionally, it found that news stories about Black and Hispanic shooting victims failed to depict “complex personhood,” meaning a description of their lives beyond the tragedy that occured.
Chavis said part of this may be due to specific narratives around the motivations in shootings that take place in Chicago. Some violence incidents around the country, such as the one at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, or another at a Wal-Mart in El Paso in 2019, were widely covered because of actual or perceived ideological motivations of the attackers. In Chicago, Chavis said police often chalk up the violence to gang or interpersonal disputes. Despite the fact that both types of motivations result in tragedy and trauma, Chavis said the nation prioritizes the victims that it mourns.
“That there is, I think, more of a visceral reaction when this violence takes place in a situation where people feel as if the victims were innocent in some way. So in other words, … they were not contributing to their victimization or the harm that happened to them,” she said. “But obviously, this is not a sentiment that is afforded to people living in mostly Black communities and Chicago.”
Chavis said residents of communities where mass shootings have occurred agree with Lightfoot’s concern over the availability of illegal guns. However, Chavis said that federal resources should also prioritize other solutions such as street outreach, also known as violence interrupters.
“Having people who are considered credible messengers and their communities go out and try to address some of these conflicts … is certainly one of the ways that federal resources can be invested not just in Chicago, but in other parts of the country, as well,” she said. “And [that would be] putting resources in the community [and] really centering the people most affected by gun violence as the people who can really do something about it.”
Odette Yousef is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @oyousef.