Everyone knows that Chicago has a murder problem. Gun violence and my city are practically synonymous. More importantly, we have a problem talking about Chicago’s murder problem. The Tribune starts out each week with a murders-per-hour recap of the weekend. What insight does this provide? None. Most shootings and homicides happen over the weekend – it’s like mowing the lawn. The Tribune also makes sure to compare the current pace of shootings and killings year-on-year. So does the Sun Times. What do you do with this data? I don’t know, but I like numbers in my news. Murder: it’s like following the Dow Jones!
Being shot is how you die in Chicago, right? Nope. Chicago’s murder rate doesn’t even put us in the top 10 of murders per capita in America. In your face, Kansas City! Of course, the Daily Beast points out that it might be that our paramedics are getting better, or our gunmen are getting worse. So that’s encouraging.
At 407 murders (2014) for a city of 2.7 million, killing in Chicago is a more popular thing to talk about it than it is to actually do (even if you accept that the numbers are cooked). Murder happened to just .015% of Chicagoans in 2014. Put another way: the Cubs have won the World Series twice in their 112 year history. That’s about 2% – 133 times as much. If I threatened to kill you if the Cubs win the World Series this year, would you worry? Of course not! Because you know the Cubs are a tourist trap, not a baseball team, and tourist traps have no reason to win the World Series.
Murder is the Chicago way to die, but it’s not the way most Chicagoans actually kick the bucket. So what is? I wanted to know, so I poked around on the Department of Public Health’s mortality statistics page. You want to die like a Chicagoan? Here’s how:
Watch a ballgame, drink a bunch, and enjoy some deep dish pizza.
Well, maybe not those exact things, but the combination of alcohol, a low fiber diet, and the three hours of inactivity associated with watching baseball are excellent indicators for colo-rectal cancer, which kills more Chicagoans per year than homicide. My three part investigative series Your Ass: The Killer Behind You, will be published in the Trib this fall.
Act like wanna-be academic, short-term US Senator and former Chicagoan Barack Obama.
Lung cancer killed almost 6,000 Chicagoans in a four-year period. Obama has had a hard time giving up the habit, even though one cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life. Of course, if those 11 minutes were to be spent at a Cubs game, you might choose to smoke.
Combine numbers 1 and 2, and give yourself nearly every behavioral risk factor for a stroke.
Death by stroke has been a celebrated Chicago tradition since it provided the demise of Al Capone, Chicago’s most famous criminal never elected to public office. It doesn’t seem like a particularly tough way to die for the guy behind the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but neither does going insane from syphilis, which also happened to him.
Close the garage door, leave the car running.
You know what’s weird? Spike Lee has rejected my script about people in Chicago dying in poorly ventilated garages. Unintentional injury kills thousands of people, and the leading cause is accidental poisoning. I suspected the popularity of Italian Beef might have something to with this, but it turns out it’s just boring old carbon monoxide poisoning and drug overdoses.
Eat more salt. Eat more of everything.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most distinctive way to die in Illinois is kidney disease. If you combine kidney disease with the number one cause of kidney disease, diabetes, then you kill a whole lot of Chicagoans.
Ok, fine. Be a male gang member and get involved with the local drug trade.
Why fight the stereotype? If you want to get offed, this is the way to do it. Half the homicides in Chicago in 2014 were gang-related, and 350 of the 393 victims were men. An awful lot of them involved narcotics. After reviewing this information, I have a bold public policy recommendation: limited legalization of drugs, provided they’re bought by women and sold through street gangs, which must be all-female. I bet a lot of things would change if every punk had to give his girlfriend the money to score some smack.
Choose your friends poorly and fight with your family.
Lots of people in Chicago are killed by their partners, and about half of all people murdered were killed by someone they knew or were related to. This Thanksgiving, look around the table and think about which of those people will kill you when shit gets real. Oh – and if one of your nearest and dearest gets offed, you’re going to want to lay low for a while. A connection to a murder victim increases your chances of being murdered by 900%.
The Chicago Police are worried about who you spend time with. In their characteristically poorly thought-out and tone-deaf way, they suggest that you “be smart about with whom you hang out.” CPD knows that formal grammar really speaks to the kids. The cops also suggest that “before allowing someone in your car, ask if they have illegal drugs or guns with them.” Good idea. The little jerks in our soccer carpool better fess up.
There’s one other way.
Be a young Black man. Murder victims in Chicago are overwhelmingly a very small subset of the population: Black men ages 15-34. It’s the leading cause of death for that cohort.
I’m not saying that we cover homicide and gun violence in Chicago like sports scores and stock market averages because it happens to Black people. Oh yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying. There were 52 homicides in Chicago last month, and I can’t name the victim or the perpetrator of one them. But I knew there were 52!
I can, however, name the perpetrators of a number of recent rampage shootings. This essay from NPR points out that if those 52 Chicagoans were killed all at once, the story would be covered as a mass shooting and get full national press coverage complete with profiles of the victims and perpetrator. We have a “homicide problem” in Chicago, though, and so a few dozen killings a month aren’t a surprise. Mass shootings, though. Those are terrifying and darkly fascinating aberrations.
Unless, of course, you understand “aberration” to mean diverging from normal. Because mass shootings happen all the time, and they’re getting more frequent. Early this summer, mass shootings were averaging one a day. Makes you shudder to think about what normal might be, doesn’t it?
Thanks to the chaos in Mexico, America has only the second highest homicide rate among wealthy, developed countries. But it seems pretty clear that lots more people are going to die the Chicago way.