In a year of relentless violence, Chicago has hit another grim milestone, exceeding 700 homicides for the first time in nearly two decades, the Chicago Tribune reports. The 700 mark was reached about 6:20 a.m. Wednesday when a 25-year-old man was shot in the abdomen and back as he drove, crashing into a bus shelter. The 701 homicides through Wednesday marked a nearly 56 percent jump from the 450 killings a year earlier. With one month still to go, that represents the most homicides since 704 in 1998. Through Wednesday, nearly 4,050 people have been shot, a 50 percent jump from 2,699 victims a year earlier. Police statistics do not include about an additional 20 killings on area expressways, as well as police-involved shootings, justifiable homicides, or death investigations that could later be reclassified as homicides.
The surge in violence has come at a time of upheaval for the police department amid an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in the past year’s fallout over the video showing the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by an officer. Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said his department is doing all it can to combat violence rooted in poverty and hopelessness. He called this year’s homicide totals “unacceptable,” blaming what he called “a small subsection of citizens.” The department has compiled a “strategic subject list,” a computerized algorithm designed to zero in on 1,400 mostly gang members considered most likely to shoot someone or become a victim of violence. “The police are doing their job,” Johnson said. “What we need help in is holding these repeat gun offenders accountable for this gun violence, and until we do that, we’re going to continue to see the cycle of violence.” Homicides peaked in Chicago at more than 900 a year in the 1990s.