Chicago's Coronavirus Shelter in Place Measures Haven't Slowed Shootings

The coronavirus "lockdown" has not slowed shootings in the greater Chicago area, with 498 shooting victims recorded in 2020 through March 31—and an additional 20 people shot during several incidents in the first weekend of April alone.

The city of Chicago recorded 165 shooting victims in the month of March, with the gun violence centering around the area's south and west sides during a time government officials are attempting to contain the spread of the coronavirus. There have been 4,680 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 identified among Chicago residents and 98 deaths through April 5, according to Chicago Department of Public Health statistics. But the city's number of shooting victims for the year topped 500 over the weekend after 20 people were shot city-wide, two of them fatally, in just the past two days.

The rise in shooting victims comes despite a March 20 to April 7 statewide "shelter-in-place" order from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Between March 20 and April 1, at least 70 shooting victims were recorded in the greater Chicago area.

A Chicago Police Department spokesperson told Newsweek Monday that, overall, crime activity is "ebbing and flowing" normally for this time of year and any dramatic deviations are unlikely as both officers and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are taking a diplomatic "public health approach" versus a heavier "lockdown" mentality. Chicago police are also focusing on maintaining the health of their own officers, handing out 42,000 surgical masks to employees, which they believe may only last eight days.

"If officers can't safeguard their own families from coronavirus, they can't safeguard residents," CPD Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi noted to Newsweek Monday by phone. He added that March had more shootings but fewer murders and it's difficult to predict numbers as the weather gets warmer, but the department is monitoring changes closely. Several studies have shown that shootings tend to rise in the city during warmer summer months. Mayor Lightfoot has stressed the "shelter-in-place" order in lieu of harsher forms of enforcement.

"This is not a lockdown or martial law," she said at the March 20 quarantine announcement. Guglielmi concurred Monday saying, "This isn't a 'lockdown' and officers are primarily focused on reducing sizes of groups to slow the disease. We're trying to be diplomatic and to educate."

The "shelter-in-place" order urges all non-essential workers to remain inside their homes unless they are picking up groceries, medicine or gasoline, or taking walks using six feet of social distancing. Interstate travel is expressly permitted and groups are being asked to disperse instead of being immediately subjected to arrest. CPD has arrested three people, issued 11 citations and given 1,600 dispersal orders since the March 20 quarantine began.

The city's non-essential businesses have been ordered to close earlier, typically prior to 6 p.m. in compliance with the shelter-in-place directive.

Before the past weekend's shootings involving 20 victims, 498 people had been shot in Chicago since the start of 2020 through April 1, and at least one other man was shot and killed on April 2 in the city's Heart of Chicago neighborhood on the west side. According to the Chicago Tribune's weekly and annual tracking data, the city saw an 8 percent decline in total shooting victims in 2019—2,611—and the number of murders—492—fell below 500 homicides for the first time since 2015.

According to Chicago Tribune tracking data, 63 more people have been shot in Chicago in 2020 versus 2019.

Chicago's south and west sides are also seeing a disproportionately higher number of deaths tied to COVID-19, according to Cook County Medical Examiner's Office data analyzed by WBEZ radio. And while black residents only make up 23 percent of the county's population, they account for 58 percent of COVID-19 deaths. Through Saturday, 107 of Cook County's 183 deaths tied to COVID-19 were black.

Health experts told WBEZ Sunday that the higher death rates tied to coronavirus in black and low-income communities were not a surprise.

"It's disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising," Dr. Linda Rae Murray, a health policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the local Chicago TV station. "This is just a reflection of the facts that we already know about these pandemics. People who are vulnerable will die quicker and won't have as many resources."

In terms of total shooting incidents versus victims, Chicago police saw a nearly 10 percent drop between the 2,381 incidents of gun violence in 2018 versus 2,151 in 2019.

More than 5,200 people were killed throughout the city of Chicago in the last decade, Chicago Police Department statistics show. The city recorded nearly 800 murders in 2016 and 670 in 2017.

chicago shootings coronavirus deaths lockdown
Between March 20 and April 1, at least 70 shooting victims were recorded in the greater Chicago area. SCOTT OLSON / Staff/Getty Images