With 739 murders as of yesterday, 2016 has been Chicago’s deadliest year since 1997. Six fatalities came during Memorial Day weekend, when the New York Times tracked 49 shootings involving 64 victims over three days. An overwhelming majority of the city’s 3,451 shootings this year were gang-related, police say. What that means has become increasingly fuzzy, as the large, well-organized operations built around drug dealing have splintered, and are now little more than cliques or sets, the New York Times reports. The Times spent several weeks this fall with gang members to get a better understanding of what it means to be in a gang. They were often days of boredom, punctuated by bursts of drama and bravado. Gang life includes animated debates over whether the guys on the next block meant to insult you or not. It means worrying over how to make enough for your next meal or your next high. It also means mourning the loss of loved ones, retaliating in their honor, yet wanting the cycle to stop.
Ron, a 23-year-old Black Disciple who uses the nickname Kaos, and asked that his last name not be used, explained the relentless cycle of violence: I’ve already lost friends. If we are making money, I can ignore the urge to retaliate. “But if we’re sitting here bored, getting high and we got guns around, it ain’t nothing else to do,” he added. The Times says gang members are young men who defy easy caricature. They are the sales people who help you find shoes at a sportswear store or factory workers next to you on the assembly line. They kiss their young children on the lips and cry when someone close to them dies. They do use and sell drugs, and sometimes lash out in inexplicable bursts of violence over disputes like a battle for a girl’s attention, or disrespectful words uttered on a rap video posted to YouTube.