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Crime may not pay, but political candidates are always hoping it will.
Jesus "Chuy" Garcia released a statement yesterday afternoon on the "rash of shootings" in Chicago over the weekend, along with a link showing that two had been killed and six wounded in Chicago on Saturday. (By the time the weekend was over, four were dead and 18 wounded in shootings.)
“On this spring weekend, when families should be together and joyous, Chicago families are mourning after a string of shootings across the city," said Garcia, the Cook County commissioner who's opposing Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Tuesday's runoff. “During Easter mass at our home parish of St. Epiphany this morning, Evelyn and I prayed for these families, and prayed that the violence will stop.
“This weekend is a time for reflection," the statement went on, "but it is also a time for urgent action. We must come together to pursue a dramatically different approach to fighting back against the scourge of gun violence in this city."
Dramatically different from the approach of you-know-who, in other words.
And what better time to call for urgent action than two days before the election?
On Saturday, Garcia's campaign released a letter from California congresswoman Maxine Waters and Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem endorsing Garcia in his runoff against Emanuel. In their letter, Waters and Steinem decried the "greater gun violence" in Chicago under Emanuel, and the "growing murder rate," and the "too few police."
The murder rate has actually declined in Chicago since Emanuel took office. It's declined significantly, here and throughout the nation, since the early 1990s.
Last week, the Chicago Police Department released statistics showing that the homicide rate for the first three months this year was up compared with the same period last year. In a big city, a rise or dip in the homicide rate over a three-month stretch reveals very little. But Garcia called a press conference to highlight the figures and to declare that "public safety in Chicago is not a major concern of Rahm Emanuel and his administration."
Crime was also the focus of Garcia's first TV commercial: "Chicago's had 10,000 shootings in the last four years. It's got to stop. . . . I'll put 1,000 new cops on the street, and get the guns off."
Regarding the 1,000 cops: I've argued before that hiring more police is not the best way to reduce the city's violence—that it's conventional political pandering. As for Garcia's vow to get the guns off the street: good luck. I think he'd do about as well at that as Emanuel has, and as Mayors Richard M. Daley and Harold Washington did, which was not well at all. The number of guns on the street is not something a big-city mayor can change much, certainly not in a single term—as I'm sure Garcia knows.
He should know because of his familiarity with Chicago's low-income neighborhoods, and because of his urban planning background—and also because when he was an alderman in the 1980s, he was a key ally of Mayor Washington. Crime rates rose while Washington was mayor, and when he ran for reelection in 1987, his opponents blasted him for it.
An early challenger to Washington in that race, Cook County assessor Thomas Hynes, said that by allowing the number of police officers to decline, Washington had showed his "complete lack of concern for public safety."
Another Washington opponent, former mayor Jane Byrne, said during the campaign that drug crime in Chicago was becoming epidemic, a problem she'd fight by hiring 500 police officers. When reporters asked her how she'd pay for that, Byrne "said she would avoid specifics because she was not certain how police department funds are now being allocated," the Trib reported.
The Trib also noted in 1987 that criminologists generally doubted the idea that the hiring of more police was likely to reduce crime. "I don't think the argument holds water," said Patrick Healy, executive director of the Chicago Crime Commission. "It's what the public likes to hear, so politicians feed them that nonsense."