Troubling Findings Regarding Homicides Among Chicago’s African American Youth
I like to think of myself as a glass half full kind of gal, but when I read the Illinois Violent Death Reporting System Data Brief compiled by Lurie Children’s researchers, “Homicides in Chicago: 2005, 2010, and 2015,” my optimism was sorely tried.
The report is bleak:
- Homicide rates have increased 8.6% from 2005 to 2015 for all Chicagoans, but what is even more grim is the increasing disparities for African Americans compared to Caucasians and Latinos. For example, homicide rates among African Americans were eight times higher than Caucasians in 2005, 16 times higher than Caucasians in 2010, and 18 times higher than Caucasians in 2015.
- Nearly 90% of the homicides in 2015 were due to firearms, up from 74% in 2005.
- Young people, aged 20-24 years, had the highest homicide rate in 2015. The homicide rate for men was more than 10 times higher than the homicide rate for women.
All of these findings are troubling, but as a pediatrician, what I found particularly disturbing was the increasing number of young adults, mostly male, that are killed. The young people in this age group are no longer my patients, but they are the right age to be the parents of my current patients. A violent death of a parent does not stay contained in that generation but spills into the next (and even the one after that) because a child who experiences such a tremendous loss rarely heals completely, limiting his ability to fully parent when it is his turn.
What Can We Do in the Face of Such Disturbing Realities?
Chicago is a city of neighborhoods which differ substantially in access to opportunities that contribute to a resident’s health and well-being. In Healthy Chicago 2.0, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) developed a Child Opportunity Index which computes a composite community score for 3 domains of opportunity: educational, health and environmental, and social and economic. The components of the score include such items such as adult educational attainment and proximity to employment. No Chicagoan should be surprised to learn that 1 in 2 African American and Hispanic children live in low child opportunity areas compared to 1 in 50 Caucasian children. There are no violence indicators included in the composite score, but neighborhoods that have high rates of community violence tend to have low Child Opportunity Scores.
It is becoming increasing understood that violence is not only a learned behavior that can be prevented, it is also a health equity issue. “Health equity is providing all people with fair opportunities to have the best health possible.” (Preventioninstitute.org) To realize this goal of equity for all, we need to address the root causes of violence which include the social determinants of health (such as housing and education) and structural inequities (such as discrimination and segregation).
Healthy Chicago 2.0 is Chicago’s four year community health improvement plan which was created through an inclusive process of public health stakeholders and community residents working together. Using the framework of health in all policies, Healthy Chicago 2.0 brings together a multi-disciplinary group of organizations and individuals including faith based institutions, health care organizations, social service providers, academic institutions, businesses, philanthropists, community members, and government agencies (including the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Park District, and the Chicago Department of Transportation in addition to CDPH). It has an ambitious agenda to achieve health equity for all. Daniel Burnham may or may not have said “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…Make big plans” (Chicago Tribune), but nevertheless, the sentiment remains true for us today. We need to think big, be bold, if we want to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of violence and eradicate the health disparities that currently exist among neighborhoods in Chicago.
WE can do this. We are a city that once reversed the flow of a river; we can certainly reverse the flow of violence.