DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Chicago passed a grim milestone recently. The city has seen more than 700 homicides this year, that's more than any other major U.S. city. Of course, that startling number does not begin to tell the whole story. As we're about to hear, each death reverberates in the lives of family and friends for decades. We begin with member station WBEZ's Miles Bryan.
MILES BRYAN, BYLINE: Fourteen-year-old Demarco Webster was helping his dad move to a new apartment a few months ago when he was shot and killed. His stepdad, Juawaun Hester, says they had intentionally waited to start the move until after midnight in order to avoid any trouble. Hester says DeMarco didn't even like going outside if he didn't have to.
JUAWAUN HESTER: I don't understand, man. And, you know, what's going on now is like the future children, the good children, the smart children with scholarships and they're the ones who's dying to the gun violence.
BRYAN: Hester says just one day after his stepson was killed, his neighbor's twin teenage boys were both fatally shot, too. Two more deaths in what's been a very bloody year in Chicago. The city surpassed last year's total of about 470 killings in September. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced the city would hire about a thousand new people to work in the police department.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RAHM EMANUEL: These officers will be assigned directly to the streets of our communities to work with residents in partnership to confront gun violence.
BRYAN: But many here are skeptical that having more cops will stop the murders. Rev. Marshall Hatch has a church on the city's west side in one of the most violent neighborhoods. He says relations between police and the community have deteriorated since late last year, when video is released of a Chicago officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a young black man.
MARSHALL HATCH: They've seen it in their best interest to pull back and not be, you know, aggressive. That probably has helped fuel a lot of the surge of violence that we've seen this year.
BRYAN: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says police are in a bind.
EDDIE JOHNSON: They're cautious because of the national narrative that's out there right now, so they're careful about how they do police. But at the same time, the biggest reason for this spike is because our repeat guys just don't fear the judicial system.
BRYAN: Johnson says Illinois needs tougher sentencing laws for repeat gun offenders. And locking up gang leaders did help in the late '90s, the last time the city saw this level of killing. But University of Illinois criminologist John Hagedorn says statistics can be misleading.
JOHN HAGEDORN: Today the gangs are no longer structured and city-wide, they're small cliques of kids. The reasons for the homicides are often insults, accidental events, very difficult kinds of things to contain.
BRYAN: Hagedorn says in the late '90s, Chicago police cleared about two-thirds of all the city's homicides, but now only clear about a quarter of them.
HAGEDORN: So we're dealing with a different kind of situation which calls for some different policing strategies, but mainly it should tell the city that it has to address the roots of desperation.
BRYAN: Seonia Owens knows that desperation. Owens is from Chicago's South Side, where her 15-year-old son was shot and killed nearly 20 years ago.
SEONIA OWENS: When you shoot that boy, you shooting that whole family. When put - take that one bullet, you have destroyed a whole family, might as well say you shot everybody.
GREENE: OK. A voice there capturing this difficult moment in Chicago, hitting 700 homicides this year. That story came from member station WBEZ's Miles Bryan.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
WBEZ has been revisiting families affected by homicides in 1998, that was the last time the city suffered more than 700 murders. Reporter Patrick Smith talked with Kyisha Weekly about her childhood friend Candice Curry. Candice was playing in a park that summer when a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting took her life.
KYISHA WEEKLY: I met her when she was 9 and we was friends. We instantly connected and, you know, everyday we used to hang together, go to school together. Her mother - we used to go to her momma house and, you know, jump rope in front of her house and...
WEEKLY: That's Crisette. This is my little baby, 3 years old. And our favorite spot to go to was the Route, it was called Route 66. It was a skating place. It was skating on one side and it was dancing on the other side. So my - our parents used to think that we used to go for the skate and we use to go for the dance part (laughter). And so one day my grandma came and picked us up.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WEEKLY: Candice lost her life at that same - she came over, it was a summer day. She came over in the morning, we walked to the store, got our chips, juice, honey buns and orange juice. Came back and sat on my back for a little while. As we was talking and stuff, we were just sitting there talking and she said that she was ready to go to the park. And I told her to wait for me so I changed my clothes. And she said she was going to wait but then she got impatient and said she'll be back or meet her up there. I told her OK.
And it was like soon as she got to the park, somebody was driving by - they say they was doing a drive-by trying to shoot at somebody else and shot her. Some guys came - ran to my house and told me Candice got shot right as I was getting dressed finna (ph) go to the park. And I was tore, I didn't believe it, you know, but I didn't think that she would pass 'cause she only got shot under her arm. So, yeah, I was heartbroken. I try not to think about it.
WEEKLY: OK, Crisette. Yeah, it be - I try not to think about it. Sometimes I drink a lot to not think about the stuff that done happened in my life.
(SOUNDBITE OF GODSPEED
WEEKLY: There used to be a lot of shooting going on when I was growing up and you used to have to just sit on the floor, try not to get shot. Can't look out the window. It's way worse than that 'cause they be hitting innocent people.
WEEKLY: OK, baby. Love my baby, that's why I, you know, can't be - can't sit on a bus stop with your kids, people getting shot, women getting - they shooting women, everything and they just - it's out of control.
(SOUNDBITE OF GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR SONG, "EAST HASTINGS")
MARTIN: That was Kyisha Weekly talking about her 13-year-old friend Candice Curry, who was killed in 1998.
GREENE: Now, a few years after Candice's death, another teenage friend of Weekly's was killed and then her brother and then last year her young nephew.
(SOUNDBITE OF GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR SONG, "EAST HASTINGS")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.