Reporting as the “carnage and mayhem”

On Wednesday May 5th Chuck Goudie from ABC 7 News did his absolute best to use hyperbolic reporting and an extremely poor use of statistics to lend support to a recent call for the National Guard.  (You can view the report below.)  I will take the time Goudie didn’t to show you how the numbers and language used in the report where nothing short of totally horrible.

Baghdad & Bosnia

We’ve been to Baghdad and Bosnia, in hurricanes and earthquakes, at riots and at Ground Zero. But how the I-Team could safely report on one night in Chicago prompted just as serious discussions in our newsroom.

Really Chuck?  Are you seriously equating entering the Gresham neighborhood in Chicago at night with going into a war zone?  I must have missed the bombings, missile attacks, mortars, and in the case of Baghdad suicide bombers and car bombs.  This type of language only feeds the extremists views Chicagoans have about these neighborhoods and is why politicians can get on television and call for the National Guard rather than seeking real long-term solutions.

The Chi’s Image

“Chicago’s image has been defined by shots heard – and seen – around the word, usually snippets of carnage and mayhem.”

Once again here, there is no basis for Goudie’s claim other than it fits perfectly with the hyperbolic reporting that seems to be the agenda of the entire piece.  Also, from the last reports I have seen despite a few horrible incidents, which every urban center experiences as the weather warms up, Chicago had an increase from 101 to 113 homicides.  Obviously this 11% increase in homicides is enough to get the white television reporters to “parachute” into communities of color.   If you take a more long-term perspective you will see that homicides are down significantly in Chicago since the late 80s.  So does this mean that what we are experiencing in Chicago is better now and thus should be tolerated?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, homicides are down significantly: 52% since 1992; but no because now it seems like the only people being murdered are young men of color in Chicago.

18 years of Homicides in Chicago - Chart

 Typical Victim:

“In 2008 the typical murder victim was 17 to 25 years of age, male, black, and had a prior arrest history,” (CPD 2008 Murder Analysis Report, pg. 44).

Typical Offender:

“In 2008 the typical murder victim was 17 to 25 years of age, male, black, and had a prior arrest history,” (CPD 2008 Murder Analysis Report, pg. 44).

 Iraq & Afghanistan

One hundred and twenty four people have been killed so far in 2010 – one per day – nearly the number of Americans killed during the same period in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Ok, this is so totally wrong it is not even funny.  Chuck, once again you are making a totally wrong correlation – urban violence to war violence.  Why?  I am not really sure.  It seems like it just adds more intensity to the report.  Are you trying to scare your audience?  Are you trying to push the “bring in the national guard agenda”?  You see this actually fits into the “these people are animals” belief that many white Chicagoans have.  If you want to make a correlation that might come a smidge closer try comparing the urban violence in Baghdad and Kandahar.  Now it still won’t be correct but give it a go anyways.  Why not try comparing Chicago to say New York, Houston, and LA?  That would actually be instructive.

A True Statement

When there are shots fired, sometimes they hit; sometimes they don’t.  On this night, the police spent hours responding to calls of shots fired from alleys and gangways, on street corners, in parking lots and living rooms.

No complaints here.  This is just a great example of investigative reporting that makes Chicago the Mecca for journalistic performance that it is.

All Gang Involved

Police and residents said each and every violent incident we saw involved gang members.

This might be very true but it would seem that a little investigation would be needed before we can make this assumption.  It is easy to blame everything on gangbangers  but it might just not be the case.

Try this example on for size:
If two guys from different gangs get into a fight over a girl that results in shots being fired does that mean it was gang related?  When you can answer this question and then study the facts of each shooting you can say that each of the shootings were gang related.  Credibility is only earned when journalists are not megaphones for agenda based statements and community resentment.  Am I saying I have proof that some of the shootings were not gang related?  Nope.  Unfortunately, I have as much proof for my statement as Goudie does, but I am admitting it.

And despite Mayor Daley’s disquieting photo op last week, his own police department’s statistics show that in 2008, 77 percent of all city murders were committed with handguns that are already banned.

Here was Goudie’s single great use of numbers.  The problem, this should have been part and parcel of his coverage two years ago when the Mayor and Superintendent Weis argued for the issuing of assault rifles to patrol officers due to the increased use of assault rifles from gangs. Read more about that here:  Chicago Police, Assault Rifles, & No Demonstrable Need!


The police data reveals one statistic has changed. In 1991, Chicago police solved 67 percent of all murder cases, most with an arrest and prosecution. That clearance rate has plummeted. In 2008, the last year sampled, only one of every three murders in the city was solved.

18 years of homicide clearance rates - ChicagoNice use of numbers but can we have a little context please.  Does the drop in clearances represent a change in the types of murders that are now occurring in Chicago?  How about comparing clearance numbers from other large cities to see if we can shed a little light into whether Chicago’s drop is inline with a national trend or stands out from other large cities?   You could also talk to a policing expert about how the drop in clearance rates might be adding to the inability of Chicago’s murder rate to continue to drop like other large cities, New York for example.

From the content of this report it seems the communities of color might actually be better off if the white reporters continued to ignore their communities.  Goudie talks in the video about following up and going into other communities to cover the violence.  Hmmm….is that really in the best interest of these communities?  I think not.  Remember, Goudie is an investigative reporter, which means he has more time to do his reports.  This should be some of the best reporting that television news has to offer.  Scary thought isn’t it.

Bringing more data to the discussion about homicide clearance rates:

The simple fact is that there are are real reasons why the homicide clearances rates have dropped.  For one reason, interpersonal homicides, like brother killing brother and the like, has dropped significantly over the last twenty years.  Those types of murders are very easy to solve unlike the anonymous gang related shooting.  Does this mean the clearance rate drop should be tolerated, I am not sure.  I would definitely argue that we spend way too much time worried about drugs and way too little time worrying about homicides, sexual assault, and domestic violence.  Goudie simply made no effort to bring data to the discussion beside cherry picking a single figure without any real discussion about what the clearance rate drop means.

Let’s bring some additional data to the discussion:

2008 Homicides: 4 largest cities in America


Here you will see the total number of homicides for 2008 in the four largest cities in America, largest by population.  Also you will find the number of those same murders that were cleared by their respective police agencies.   This puts the number quoted by Goudie out of the CPD’s homicide analysis report into a little more context.  Do this allow a perfect discussion?  No.  Why?  Because you would still need to know the types of homicides that are occurring in each city to understand why one city, or more than one in this case, clear so many more homicides than Chicago does.


2008 Homicide Clearance Rates - 4 largest Cities in AmericaIn this chart you will see the clearance rates for the four largest cities in America for the year 2008.  Once again you see a significant difference between the rates, Chicago is lagging behind.  We never started from the beginning did we?  What does it mean for the police to clear a case?

From the 2008 CPD Homicide Analysis Report:

“Murders are cleared when an arrest is made and the arrestee is prosecuted.  Murders can also be cleared exceptionally.  In the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook, the Federal Bureau of Investigation lists circumstances in which murders may be cleared exceptionally.  To exceptionally clear cases police officials must have identified the suspect, have enough evidence to support the arrest and charging of the suspect, know where the suspect is, but some circumstance exist as to why the suspect cannot be arrested, charged, or prosecuted.  These circumstances include, but are not limited to:

  • Offender Suicide
  • Double murders, (i.e. two persons kill each other)
  • Deathbed confessions
  • Instances when the offender is killed by police or a citizen
  •  Instances when an offender who is already in custody or serving a sentence confesses to the murder
  • Instances when an offender is prosecuted by state or local authorities in another city for a different offense or prosecuted in another city or state by the federal government for an offense which may be the same offense
  •  Instances when extradition is denied
  • Instances when the offender dies after a warrant is issued, but before being taken into custody
  •  The prosecution refuses to prosecute the case”

Does this settle the discussion?  I hope not; however, it certainly adds a lot more context and information to the discussion.

All of the statistics were pulled from the report we downloaded from the ABC 7 News website.  The numbers from the other cities were garnered from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and local media reports in their respective cities.  You can download a copy of the 2008 Murder Analysis in Chicago Report from the Chicago Police Department below.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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