Parts of Chicago, Philadelphia More Dangerous Than Wartime Iraq, Afghanistan: Study

Skyrocketing crime rates are turning mayoral elections in America’s biggest cities into referenda on those cities’ liberal prosecutorial policies.

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP
The governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, hugs gun control advocate Maria Pike after he signed comprehensive legislation to ban military-style firearms on Tuesday. Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP

For some, two American cities are being labeled more dangerous than the war-torn Middle East of a few years ago — and one of them is known as, you guessed it, the City of Brotherly Love.

According to a study from the open-source medical journal JAMA Network, young men are more likely to be shot and killed in certain ZIP codes of Chicago and Philadelphia than American soldiers were in wartime Afghanistan or Iraq.

A number of factors — smaller police budgets, progressive prosecutors, easy access to illegal weapons, and hurdles for law-abiding persons to obtain permits to carry handguns — are contributing to this trend, which has already become a major issue in both cities’ coming mayoral elections. 

The average annual deaths per 100,000 for American soldiers numbered at 395 in Afghanistan and 330 in Iraq. In parts of Chicago, that number is 1,277 — nearly double the rates in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. In Philadelphia, the number is 756.

Chicago has long had major crime issues, and homicide rates are currently at their highest since the 1990s. In the last three years, nearly 2,100 people have been murdered, which is roughly two homicides per day. Yet the state of Illinois has been fighting against rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting the right to keep and bear arms, and this week passed a bill that bans assault-style weapon sales in the state. 

As Mayor Lori Lightfood gears up for a re-election bid this year, she has admitted that crime is the most important issue facing Chicagoans. “The no. 1 issue on everyone’s lips, around kitchen tables is public safety, public safety, public safety,” Ms. Lightfoot said at a press conference last month. 

Some critics blame liberal prosecutors for this recent spike in crime. In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner was impeached by the state house of representatives and could face a trial in the state senate because his city’s crime rate has climbed precipitously on his watch.

As the Sun’s A.R. Hoffman recently reported, Republicans in the state house of representatives moved forward with the impeachment measure due to Mr. Krasner’s “misbehavior in office,” referring to his non-prosecution of sex workers and altering of plea agreements to get defendants shorter sentences, which they say has contributed to the Philadelphia crime spike. 

The impeachment fight comes in the middle of a mayoral election in Philadelphia. Mayor Jim Kenney, whose tenure saw homicide rates double, is term-limited and cannot run again. According to a poll from last year, seven in 10 Philadelphia voters view crime, drugs, and public safety as the most important issue in this year’s mayoral contest. 

The most progressive candidate vying to succeed Mr. Kenney is former city council member, Helen Gym, a major proponent of police reform and a longtime supporter of Mr. Krasner. Even Ms. Gym concedes that crime is tearing her city apart, saying in her campaign announcement speech that it is “destroying” Philadelphia and its people. 

Another factor in these escalating crime rates is lack of patrol officers. Both Philadelphia and Chicago have faced major law enforcement shortages in recent years. Philadelphia has lost nearly 10 percent of its police force, down to 5,983 in 2022 from 6,590 in 2019. In Chicago, Ms. Lightfoot’s budget included funding for 14,000 police officers, but the Chicago Police Department fell short in recruitment efforts and has only about 12,000 officers on its payroll. 

Illegal guns are another major contributor to crime in Chicago. In 2021, more than 12,000 illegally owned firearms were taken off the streets. In 2022, it was more than 10,000. 

Democrats are attempting some reforms, but the results of those efforts will not be known for months. The Chicago city council just adopted a measure that allows police to detain those who are caught with illegal weapons and hold them for trial without bail. 

The specter of violent crime has become more real, even for those who advocated for the most radical police reform measures. As election season rears its head in Chicago and Philadelphia, candidates are trying to highlight their crime-fighting bonafides and tackle what seems to be an intractable problem.


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