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Chicago's Image Takes Hit With Violence

1:20 PM, Sep 21, 2013   |    comments
Chicago police investigate after gunmen opened fire on a basketball court at a park in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, wounding 13 people, including 3-year-old Deonta Howard Jr. (inset) [Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images | Inset photo supplied to CBS]
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CHICAGO -- Chicago's sometimes gritty image took a double hit this week with a shocking late-night shooting and the release of a new report that showed the Second City ranked first in homicides.

The shooting took place Thursday as residents gathered at the South Side's Cornell Square Park to watch a basketball game. A 3-year-old boy was among the 13 injured in what is thought to be a gang-related attack.

That violence came just three days after Chicago grabbed headlines as "the nation's murder capital." The distinction was based on a new Federal Bureau of Investigation report that showed Chicago, with 500 murders in 2012, had more killings than any other U.S. city that year.

The people injured and lives lost has a terrible effect on people in the communities closest to the violence - yet the reverberations spread city- and countrywide, says Tim Calkins, a strategy and branding expert who teaches at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill.

Each report that deems Chicago as a dangerous town "shapes the perceptions that people have of the city," he says.

"When you say the name of a city, you want to have positive associations about the wonderful downtown area or the sports teams. You don't want the first thing to be violence," he says. "Every time Chicago is in the headlines for violence, the reputation gets a little more tarnished."

Congresswoman Robin Kelly, D-Ill., whose district touches on Chicago's South Side, notes that shocking crime, such as Thursday night's shooting, could affect a business' decision to open up in certain areas the city - which could have a negative economic effect on the community.

Stricter gun laws would help reduce the violence, she says, but more than that is needed. Young people must gain access to more job opportunities, as well as be able to connect with helpful advisers, so they can discover options that go beyond joining gangs or committing crimes.

"We're trying to come up with solutions besides the laws," she says. There needs to be more "internships, job training and mentoring" for kids who are at risk of going down a violent path.

ONE CITY, VASTLY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES

The Back of the Yards neighborhood, which includes Thursday's shooting location, faces economic and educational challenges, says Mariame Kaba, director of Project NIA, a non-profit group that focuses on juvenile justice issues in Chicago.

There are few jobs in the area, and several schools have closed, she says.

Kaba points out that the more violent areas are officially part of Chicago, but are sometimes islands upon themselves.

"There are large swaths of the city that are watching this story like the rest of the nation," she said. "They are completely divorced from it."

Keba wants city officials to increase their focus on the hardest-hit areas when providing living wages and viable job opportunities.

"The critical issue is the complete and utter disinvestment from the communities where the interpersonal violence manifests," she says.

Yet, even though the violence is concentrated to the south and the west, it could affect the city's reputation as a whole, "because that is what people hear about," Calkins says.

"If this continues, will it have an impact on whether companies decide to locate in Chicago?" he asks. "It's a long-term concern."

A large area can potentially be tarnished by a smaller pocket of brutality, Calkins says, pointing out that Mexico's image has suffered because of the murders and drug activity in certain areas there.

PROGRESS MADE, BUT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE

Chicago already has a long-standing reputation associated with guns, gangs and violence.

But it is making progress. Year-to-date, murders are down 21% from 2012, according to Chicago police statistics. There have been 305 killings vs. 389 at this point in 2012.

Shootings are down 23% vs. the same time period last year. Overall, crime has dropped 15%, police say.

"Senseless and brazen acts of violence have no place in Chicago and betray all that we stand for," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement after Thursday's shooting. 

Mark Kalema, pastor of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in the city's South Shore neighborhood, says there has been some progress, but much more work is needed.

Police must build stronger bonds with the community and young residents must be given viable job prospects to survive, he says.

"We still see many young people standing on corners doing nothing at all," he says. "We have to do more. These are our sons and daughters being shot."

USA TODAY

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