The city of Chicago — 2012 murder capital of the United States and totally-not-because-of-Obama whipping boy for conservatives — had fewer murders last year than at any point since the 1960s.
The drop is legitimately stunning. The total number, 415, is down 17.5 percent from 2012, a year in which the number of murders suddenly and unexpectedly increased dramatically. An (incomplete) chart of the city's murder tally since 1886 is below, using data from Northwestern University and other sources. From a huge spike beginning in the late 1960s and then rising higher in the 1990s, the murder rate has dropped to a point around what the city saw at the time of Al Capone. (This 2009 blog post has a good look at the shifts in the city's murder rate.)
So why the continued perception of Chicago as being particular dangerous? The big 2012 spike is one reason. Last fall the FBI determined that the city was the nation's new murder capital thanks to the high number of 2012 killings. But media attention obviously played a role. The shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton, who performed in the inaugural parade that kicked off President Obama's second term and was then killed back home in Chicago a week later, drew an enormous amount of attention.
Then there was the partisanship. Over the course of 2013, the conservative news site Drudge Report ran 134 headlines including the pejorative term "CHICAGOLAND," a term meant to evoke a sort of wild violence in the city that's the president's home, run by his former chief of staff. (Drudge's non-violence-or-depravity-related posts about Chicago almost always refer to the city as "Chicago.") The city's 2012 murder rate was also used as an argument against gun control, suggesting that looser gun restrictions would help bring the murder tally down.
It came down in 2013 anyway. So far, Drudge has run one article about Chicago in 2014: "Chicago" is expecting heavy snow. Which probably is just evidence that global warming doesn't exist.
Update: The original headline to this post understandably struck some readers as callous. I have changed it, as the point was well taken. I apologize for any unintentional offense.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.