Monday, April 26, 2010

What a glorious mess

By David Heinzmann

It’s not been a quiet week here in Lake Woe… I mean Chicago.

Actually, a couple of weeks. If you like crime and political intrigue, where else could you possibly want to be than Chicago?

I’ll start at the end, at least for me, with the return of Illinois’ most imfamous pawnbroker, Scott Lee Cohen. On Saturday, I broke the story with Rick Pearson that Cohen is going to try to run for governor, amazing as that sounds. After reading the story, which includes the laundry list of almost all (didn’t quite have room in the paper for each one) false statement and embarrassing revelations that collectively imploded Cohen’s candidacy for lieutenant governor earlier this year, a friend of mine joked, “Other than that, it’s a great idea.”

Anytime a reporter can get a prostitute girlfriend, a massage parlor meeting, unpaid child support and an open statewide office in Illinois…. Well, that’s a pretty good story. But the problem is we’ve already been there with Mr. Cohen, so I’m not sure this attempt at running for governor is going to be that much fun. Maybe you don't get to publicly flame out twice in one year, even in this state.

While that sideshow was developing on Friday, the main event in the city was the federal takeover of state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias’ family business, Broadway Bank. Giannoulias is running for U.S. Senate, a campaign that’s bogged down in some seriously thick weeds thanks to the scandals surrounding Broadway. A mountain of red ink and bad loans—some of them to convicted felons who happened to be connected to the Outfit—caught up to the bank on Friday. Oh, look, more prostitutes. (One of the guys the bank gave loans had been convicted of helping run a nationwide call-girl ring.)

It was hard to keep the political corruption stories straight. The day before the feds finally took over Broadway Bank, there was of course the story of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich filing court papers attempting to compel President Obama to testify at Rod’s trial this summer. Details of what Rod was claiming about what Obama might know were supposed to be redacted in the filing. But thanks to the digital age, reporters soon discovered that when you cut and pasted the court document from a PDF to a Word document, all the redacted parts magically reappeared. Rod claims there’s evidence he had a conversation directly with the president-elect about filling Obama’s senate seat. Obama has been on the record maintaining he never talked to Rod about the seat. From the filing, it’s not clear the alleged evidence adds up to what Rod is claiming. Either way, will the leader of the free world have to provide some kind of testimony in a trial that may turn into a real three-ring circus this summer?

Let’s see, what else: three men bound and executed found in a car on the Southwest Side last week; the vicious wilding-robbery attack on two young women in Bucktown last week—both of them bludgeoned with a baseball bat over their frigging purses; lots of bodies washing up on the shore of Lake Michigan.

But the thing that stunned me, a little more than a week ago, was seeing that 17 people had been shot in Chicago in one night, with eight of them dying. In the years I covered the Chicago Police Department for the Tribune, when the murder rate was significantly higher than it has been the last couple years, that would have been a bad weekend. This was all in about 12 hours, on a week night.

When I was covering cops, I became familiar with the phenomenon of weather-change violence. Murders and shootings typically are down in Chicago during the winter because of the harsh cold. Much of the mayhem in this city is casual malevolence wrought by gang-bangers running into each other on the street, arguing about just about anything and then pushing it to the point that they know only one way to settle it—with a gun. So a lot of that kind of crime settles down during the long cold winter. But look out in spring. The first warm weekend—often in March or early April—will bring a little boomlet of shootings as people head back outside to enjoy the weather, only to be reminded of the simmering hostility they felt toward some rival over the long cold winter.

But 17 shootings in one night is not a boomlet. That’s a serious mess and indicates something else is going on. After a few years of lower, stable homicide numbers, murders in 2010 are now on pace to be about 20 percent higher than last year. And when you’re talking about the number of killings being in the 500 range, 20 percent is a serious and troubling increase.

So pay attention, crime fans, it’s going to be an interesting summer.

23 comments:

Kevin Guilfoile said...

"Scott Lee Cohen: A Happy Ending For Illinois."

Barbara D'Amato said...

Send in the National Guard?

David Heinzmann said...

I'll alert the Cohen camp to Kevin's knack for campaign slogans.

Jamie Freveletti said...

Chicago stopped "working" a while ago, but it's as if the citizens haven't noticed. They barely turned out to vote last election. The only way to insure that we get a quality governor is to put our vote to good use!

Tim Geigner said...

"Send in the National Guard?"

That's what some lawmakers are suggesting, but they would have to be silly to do so. In the history of the modern American military, of which the Nat'l Guard is a part, never have they been used to generally police their own citizens. They've been used sparingly in natural disaster situations like Katrina, but that's it. And there's a good reason for it.

They are not police. They aren't trained to be police. They won't answer to police. You put the military on the streets of Chicago in any prolonged capacity ane people are going to get killed. The only question is who is going to shoot first: the guardsmen or the city they're supposedly protecting....

Barbara D'Amato said...

I'm not for it, either. But it certainly points up what David is saying that Reps from some of the most affected districts are suggesting it.

Tim Geigner said...

True, but what no one seems to be talking about is that the murder rate in Chicago is still on the decline in relation to the past decade or two. We had a bad weekend; no one can deny that. But how do you possibly justify deploying what is indeed the military in a civilian city that has a declining murder rate?

One has to wonder if there aren't some other nefarious purposes behind it....

David Heinzmann said...

Everyboy's right. The National Guard is not a serious or plausible option. You bring them in to restore order in situations of extreme chaos. (Cairo in the late 60s comes to mind, when the police were holed up in city hall, fending off sniper fire) But public discourse being what it is these days. And yes, Chicago's murder rate is still far below what it was in the late 80s and 90s, and significantly less that what it was seven or eight years ago. But what we're seeing this year is worse than a couple bad weekends.

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