Why Don't We All Just Agree to Stop Crowning a 'Murder Capital'

What could be more useless than raw homicide numbers from over a year ago?

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AP

On Monday, the FBI released its Uniform Crime Report for 2012, revealing that Chicago experienced 500 homicides last year, the most in the country. Lots of people are now calling Chicago America's new "murder capital," because that's the city's role in the annual ritual that is the release of the uniform crime report. (Last year, the title was bestowed on New York for the 515 homicides it recorded in 2011, which, considering how safe so much of New York City is these days, underscores the importance of looking at murder rates per capita. In that case, smaller cities like Detroit, with its 386 homicides in 2012 among a population of only 700,000, tend to fare much worse.)

A horrific drive-by shooting in Chicago's Cornell Square Park late last night, in which two men shot 13 people (but thankfully, killed none of them), might reinforce the conclusions people have drawn from the FBI's report this week. Which is unfortunate, considering that 2013 is shaping up to be a much less bad year for Chicago. Despite the fact that 40 people were killed in Chicago in the first 29 days of 2013, the city's homicide rate has actually declined in 2013. The Chicago Tribune noted in April that the homicide rate had suddenly "dropped to its lowest level in 50 years," and The New York Times reported in June that:

so far in 2013, Chicago homicides, which outnumbered slayings in the larger cities of New York and Los Angeles last year, are down 34 percent from the same period in 2012. As of Sunday night, 146 people had been killed in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city — 76 fewer than in the same stretch in 2012 and 16 fewer than in 2011, a year that was among the lowest for homicides during the same period in 50 years.

As of September 11, 2013, Chicago had experienced 295 homicides; 82 fewer homicides and a 22 percent decrease over 2012. That's still too many murders, obviously. One could also argue that the decrease obscures the fact that the homicide rate for residents under 19 is not decreasing. Regardless, pointing to last year's number when this year's numbers are readily available (and telling a different story) seems like a great waste of attention. 
 
 
 

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