A couple summers ago, I had a brief encounter with a young woman at a security checkpoint at Prologue, an alternative school in Chicago’s Near Northwest Side, that has nagged at me ever since. She looked like a typical teenager on her way to class. She had a baby face framed by braids that were tied up in a knot. Her backpack was slung over shoulder as she rushed through the metal detector.
She paused and looked at me curiously, so I introduced myself and explained that I was waiting to interview one of her classmates. Usually, teenagers get chatty around reporters, especially when they feel like they’re in a safe place like school. Not this girl.
“You have no idea how we’re living,” she said.
That was it. She didn’t have to say anything else. The desperation and pain in her voice, and in her eyes, said it all.
During the past six years, youth have been the No. 1 target of homicides in Chicago. In “Too Young to Die,” our series about young people living with and dying by street violence, we found that from 2008 through 2012, nearly half of Chicago’s 2,389 homicide victims — 1,118 — were under the age of 25. That number has since increased to 1,336 through April 20.
Of the young people who have been murdered, nearly 500 are 18 or younger. More than eight out of 10 of those school-aged children were killed in the black and Latino neighborhoods where they live. That doesn’t include thousands more who’ve been shot. Or shot at.
After another violent weekend, during which five children were shot on Easter Sunday, we revisited the data to see if Chicago has made any progress in reducing youth homicides. While overall murders are down this year, violence against children 18 and under is stubbornly high; when comparing the first four months of each year since 2008, the numbers have held relatively steady since 2011.
One in every five people murdered in Chicago is 18 or younger. And most of them grew up in neighborhoods where violence is the norm. But that doesn’t make it any less traumatic, the girl’s teacher, Walter Perkins III, told me at the time. “These kids are pushed from place to place. Snatched up and put in places that would intimidate an adult,” Perkins said.
Each dot on this map is a child, 18 or younger, lost to violence in Chicago since 2008.
Correction, April 29, 2014
This story has been updated to show the correct percentage of homicide victims under the age of 25 from 2008 through 2012. Because of an editing error, the previous version cited the percentage of homicide victims under the age of 25 who were African American or Latino.
Source: RedEye data collected from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Breaking News Center; analyzed by The Chicago Reporter.