Sunday May 31 was the single most violent day in Chicago’s history going back to at least 1961. The last weekend in May, including that Sunday, was the most violent in Chicago’s modern history.
While Chicago was roiled by another day of protests and looting in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, 18 people were killed Sunday, May 31, making it the single most violent day in Chicago in six decades, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The lab’s data doesn’t go back further than 1961…
In a city with an international reputation for crime — where 900 murders per year were common in the early 1990s — it was the most violent weekend in Chicago’s modern history, stretching police resources that were already thin because of protests and looting.
“We’ve never seen anything like it, at all,” said Max Kapustin, the senior research director at the crime lab. “ … I don’t even know how to put it into context. It’s beyond anything that we’ve ever seen before.”
What’s particularly striking is the reason why this happened. According to Rev. Michael Pfleger who has been a prominent left-wing activist in Chicago for decades, word got around that police were overwhelmed and were not responding to calls for help.
“On Saturday and particularly Sunday, I heard people saying all over, ‘Hey, there’s no police anywhere, police ain’t doing nothing,’” Pfleger said.
“I sat and watched a store looted for over an hour,” he added. “No police came. I got in my car and drove around to some other places getting looted [and] didn’t see police anywhere.”
Pfleger warned that if something didn’t change May 31 could be just a preview of much worse to come. Max Kasputin from the U of Chicago Crime Lab told the Chicago Sun-Times, “When CPD has to turn its attention elsewhere and there’s suddenly this vacuum that opens up, you also unfortunately see a picture like you saw with [last] weekend where you see an absurd amount of carnage, people getting injured and killed.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said even a police force four times the size of the current one couldn’t have handled the crisis the city faced that weekend. Chicago had 65,000 calls for service on May 31 alone, sometimes as many as 2,000 calls were coming in every thirty minutes. This is why some people who were shot that weekend couldn’t get through to police and wound up calling relatives to take them to the hospital.
All of this seems to fly in the face of the current calls to defund and disband police. If one weekend of police absence resulted in the most deadly violence in 60 years, what should we expect when police budgets are slashed? Are social workers and counselors going to prevent armed people from shooting into crowds of strangers? Obviously not.
So what do we expect will happen when criminals once again sense that there is a vacuum of police presence. Will everything carry on like normal or will this kind of violence escalate like it did the last weekend in May? I think we already have the answer to that question but it’s not clear that anyone is listening.
Here’s a local news report on the weekend’s unprecedented violence.