Lawmakers, Media Gaslighting Won’t Solve Chicago’s Intractable Crime Problem

May 29, 2024

Media can talk itself into believing its fibs, but the public isn't buying them

Chicago is a violent city — one that is significantly more violent than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

In 2023, while homicides were down 14 percent from 2022, violent crimes overall — led by a surge in carjackings — were 11 percent higher, according to the Chicago Data Portal.

There were 625 murders last year — that figure was 45 percent higher than a decade ago

Last September — after a nine-month delay over a legal challenge from most of Illinois’ state’s attorneys — the SAFE-T Act, which eliminated cash bail, went into effect. The unsuccessful court battle handed SAFE-T Act supporters a propaganda win, as historically there are fewer violent crimes once temperatures fall.

Then came the gaslighting on the SAFE-T Act and crime.

In March 2023, six months after the no-cash bail law was implemented — and as temperatures were rising — there were a slew of media stories about how well the law is working. The focus of these reports was not on public safety, but on court procedures and the processing of criminal defendants.

A Chicago Sun-Times story by Matthew Hendrickson from earlier this month struck a similar tone and was accompanied by the headline: "End of cash bail in Illinois showing early signs of success in reaching 'better and fairer system.'" Crime victims only got a brief mention in the article and no police officers were interviewed. A SAFE-T Act-loving judge was the primary source for the Sun-Times piece.

Headlines are more important than ever in the digital age of journalism, as many people, probably most, don't look past the headlines on their smartphones or tablets and bother to read the articles that accompany these banners. And these headlines-only consumers of news probably make up a majority of the electorate, but that's another topic for another time.

Not that all headlines are bad or deceptive. Sites such as CWB Chicago are a rare exception.

For example: Over the past several days, headlines found in CWB headlines have read:

  • Man in violent robbery crew that swept through downtown Chicago was on felony pretrial release, officials say.
  • Migrant gets arrested for the 10th time in 10 months.
  • Chicago man who carjacked a Lyft driver at gunpoint has seven cases pending in juvenile court, officials say. 
  • 5 counts of attempted murder filed against man on pretrial release in stolen car case.

With regard to its final story, CWB Chicago asserts that the alleged perpetrator is "the 11th person accused of shooting, killing, or trying to shoot or kill someone this year while on pretrial release. He is the first to be charged while on release under the SAFE-T Act’s cashless bail system." 

The first of many, to be sure.

The accused man, along with the accused offenders referenced in CWB's other stories, are being held — finally held, one might say — in Cook County Jail.

Perhaps the worst gaslighting on crime comes from Crain's Chicago Business.

Crain's is a pathetic joke. Rather than reporting honestly on crime — or even business — Crain's Chicago Anti-Business operates like a hack chamber of commerce president from the 1970s, only without the plaid sports jacket and the ill-fitting toupee. 

One of its better journalists — and this isn't saying much — is real estate reporter Dennis Rodkin. During Crain's Daily Gist podcast on March 7, Rodkin discussed the "persistent problem" of high-end downtown Chicago condominiums selling for dramatically less than what the owners paid for them only a few years earlier. "This is a problem we have," Rodkin said. "We still have quite a crime situation downtown, Michigan Avenue, we've lost a lot of restaurants and shops on Michigan Avenue and in that area."

So, Crain's got it right in that podcast? 

No, not even close.

Daily Gist host, Amy Guth, awkwardly responded to Rodkin after he brought up crime with this doozy: "As you've pointed out many times, there's crime — and perception of crime — and those are two very different things."

No, they're not different. People perceive that there is more crime in downtown Chicago — and elsewhere in the city — because of course there is more crime.

Cue the Leslie Nielsen meme from The Naked Gun as multiple explosions ignite behind him, "Alright, move on, nothing to see here, disperse."

Let's move on to another Crain's offering, this time from a behind-the-paywall magazine article penned by Leigh Giangreco.

"For most Chicagoans, Memorial Day weekend will usher in a summer of live music, barbecues, and sunny days on the lake," she writes. "But for the small percentage of residents [emphasis mine] who bear the brunt of city's shootings, summer marks the grimmest period of violence all year."

"Small percentage of residents?"

One shooting of course is too many, regardless of the person's zip code. Nevertheless, Giangreco's callousness is reminiscent of a heartless comment uttered by British Home Secretary Reginald Maulding, who, in response to Provisional Irish Republican Army terror attacks on British troops, expressed his desire to reduce "their level of violence to something like an acceptable level" in the early days of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Don't worry, Crain's Chicago Business subscribers, you are not part of "the small percentage of residents who bear the brunt of city's shootings," Giangreco is all but saying.

And there are shootings, stabbings, robberies, and other crimes occurring regularly downtown.

Expect this type of gaslighting to continue from Crain's, the Sun-Times, other media outlets, and of course, by government officials. They can't help themselves; they're too far gone.

As for crime, sadly, there is plenty to see here.

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