Multiple shootings over the holiday weekend in Chicago left 53 people injured and nine dead, including a 7-year-old boy who was watching fireworks, prompting the city's top police official to call the local justice system "broken."
The child, Amari Brown, was shot and killed in front of his house on the city's West Side just before midnight on Saturday. Chicago police said Monday that the assailants were actually targeting the boy's father, Antonio Brown, who is allegedly a "ranking" gang member.
The Independence Day violence came after a particularly bloody Memorial Day weekend this year in Chicago, when 12 people were killed and 43 were wounded. The bloodshed has prompted a fresh round of questions about why Chicago gun violence remains stubbornly high.
But this weekend's death toll was actually less than what it was a year ago, when 13 people were killed and 70 were wounded over the Fourth of July weekend. And, according to police data and experts, crime in Chicago is mostly trending downward.
Though shootings are up in Chicago compared to last year, they're also on the rise in cities across the country, according to Andrew Papachristos, a Yale University sociology professor who studies violence and street gangs.
"Like so many other things where Chicago is concerned, the portrayal is not always accurate relative to what the trends are," Papachristos said, citing New York, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Philadelphia as other cities experiencing similar trends.
"Chicago is not the murder capital of the United States, and crime rates are at a historical low," he said.
While some neighborhoods in Chicago do have murder rates that are 50 times higher than the national average, others have a murder rate of zero, leading to a "crime gap," Papachristos said.
But the city as a whole has not had two consecutive years in which the murder rate has increased, dispelling the notion of the city becoming more dangerous, he said.
'Criminals don't feel the repercussions of the justice system.'
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy decried the gun violence problem in Chicago, placing blame on a criminal justice system that churns offenders back out onto the streets. Brown's father Antonio was previously arrested for gun possession and quickly released.
"We need to repair a broken system," McCarthy said, according to NBC. "Criminals don't feel the repercussions of the justice system."
McCarthy said that the elder Brown's most recent arrest was in April.
"He took police on a vehicle pursuit, was placed into custody, and was back out on the streets the very next day," McCarthy said. "If Mr. Brown is in custody, his son is alive. That's not the case. Quite frankly, he shouldn't have been on the street."
Mike McLively, staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told VICE News that the city does have a firearms problem despite having some of the strictest laws in the country. Purchasing a gun in Chicago requires fingerprints, a background check, a training class, and fees, but neighboring towns and states don't have similar restrictions so illegal guns still flow freely into the city, McLively explained.
"If you look at nearby states, particularly Indiana, they receive like a D- or an F [grade] from our organization, and if you look at the patterns of crime and gun trafficking, guns are flowing from those states into Illinois," McLively said. "So regardless of how good a job they're doing, if other states don't get their act together, it makes it difficult to stem the flow of illegal guns."
McLively said that some community-based programs, including Ceasefire Illinois, have helped bring the homicide rate down in recent years by going into communities and helping to settle disputes between individuals without violence. But that group recently lost state funding, which founder Gary Slutkin said in March could cause an uptick in shootings.
The addition of McCarthy and his New York training in street crime strategies has also helped curb the violence, McLively said. But reducing easy access to guns, increasing funding for community-based reduction programs, and improving education and employment opportunities all must complement good policing for there to be a meaningful reduction in violence, McLively said.
Follow Colleen Curry on Twitter: @currycolleen
Watch the VICE News documentary, Institutionalized: Mental Health Behind Bars