Nearly 4,000 people have been murdered in President Barack Obama’s adopted city during his presidency.
On Tuesday in Chicago, Obama plans to bid farewell to the nation and tout the “historic moments” of his presidency.
In the eight years since Obama was sworn into office Jan. 20, 2009, 3,930 people have been killed in homicides across the Illinois city. The majority were black males killed by guns, despite Chicago’s stringent restrictions on all types of firearms. To put this in perspective, this is nearly as high as the 4,229 service members killed during the Iraq War under President George W. Bush.
Residents are fleeing the city and Illinois at a record pace. Illinois lost 37,508 residents in 2016, bringing the state population to the lowest level since 2009. Homicides in Chicago in 2016 skyrocketed passed previous figures, rising from 496 in 2015 to 762 in 2016, CNN reports.
The president, who launched a program to assist black youth in impoverished regions in 2014, called My Brother’s Keeper, often discussed the city’s violence in the context of federal gun control or community relationships with the police. Loretta Lynch, Obama’s attorney general, launched a civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) after the fatal shooting of a teenager in 2014 by an officer.
“I live on the South Side of Chicago, so my house is pretty close to some places where shootings take place,” Obama said during a 2015 speech in the city. “Because that’s real, we have to get on top of it before it becomes an accelerating trend.”
Chicago has been under the control of Mayor Rahm Emanuel since 2011. Emanuel is Obama’s former chief of staff; despite winning reelection in 2015, he is still struggling to stem the tide of violence.
The sharp jump in homicides in Obama’s adoptive hometown is the largest seen in 60 years, with murders now standing at a nearly 20-year high. The figures show a large acceleration of violence in the deteriorating city, even since 2015, when the murder rate was 18.81 per 100,000 people. The murder rate now sits at roughly 27 per 100,000 people.
Despite tight gun control laws in the city and state, 90 percent of murders in 2016 involved firearms — a 3 percent increase over the previous year. Chicago police also confiscated 8,300 illegal guns in the city, which is a 20 percent increase over 2015.
The murder rate in Chicago is the highest in the black community, claiming 46.52 lives per 100,000 people in 2015. The homicide rate of young adults ages 20 to 24 rose from 43 victims per 100,000 in 2010 to 64 per 100,000 in 2015, according to research from the Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“We as a people left in Chicago have a lot of work to do,” Theodria Constanoplis, who lost her grandson to Chicago violence in June, told CNN. “They fear going outside. They fear playing.”
The violence comes during a climate that is growing increasingly hostile to police officers nationwide. The former head of the CPD, fired by Emanuel in late 2015, partly blamed groups like Black Lives Matter for the current atmosphere, which he argued is keeping police from doing their jobs. Due to several lawsuits in the wake of police shooting deaths, the CPD agreed in August 2015 to track all investigatory stops such as pat downs and fill out a two-page report on stops for outside review, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Stops by police of suspicious persons declined in the wake of the new policy from 49,257 in August 2015 to only 8,859 in August 2016. Over this time, the arrest rate dropped by one third.
“So what’s happening, and this is ironic, is that a movement with the goal of saving black lives at this point is getting black lives taken, because 80 percent of our murder victims here in Chicago are male blacks,” former Chicago Police superintendent Garry McCarthy said Jan. 1, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement. “Less than half of one percent of all the shootings in this city involve police officers shooting civilians.”
Obama will deliver his farewell address Tuesday from Chicago, where he served as a senator from 2004 until his election to the presidency. The president says he wants to use the remarks as a platform to thank the country for the accomplishments of the last eight years, “because, for me, it’s always been about you.”
“Since 2009, we’ve faced our fair share of challenges, and come through them stronger,” said a statement from Obama regarding the address. “That’s because we have never let go of a belief that has guided us ever since our founding – our conviction that, together, we can change this country for the better.”
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