Gun Violence And The Rise Of Homicide Rates In Chicago

Chicago, one of America's largest cities, has faced some of the most ferocious increases in violence, specifically in homicide rates. Many other U.S. cities have similar problems relating to homicide rates, such as New York and Los Angeles, but Chicago holds a unique standard especially with in the year of 2014 to 2015 of about 17 homicides per 100,000 occurring. According to a news article written by The Atlantic, it stated “ ...Compared to cities of similar size like New York and Los Angeles, Chicago's homicide rate is far higher than average”. Chicago’s unique structure and size has placed a stigma that has centered its prime focus on its cities crime rates. Communities such as East and West Garfield Park, Englewood, and Fuller Park are some of the neighborhoods that contain the highest rates of homicide and violence (Papachristos, 2013, p.7). These poverty ridden neighborhoods in Chicago were arranged with a variety of ethnicities, Mostly African Americans, that engulfed and conquered many different sectors of the South and West sides. The article encrypted by the Chicago Tribune stated “A complex mix of factors is driving the violence. But much of the bloodshed can be linked to gang conflict over everything from petty disputes to control of drug dealing, as well as the splintering gangs into smaller cliques fighting over a few blocks at a time and easy access to guns...”. Much of Chicago’s poverty ridden communities share similar socio-economic struggles influenced by gang problems. The presence of gangs in Chicago have played as an important aspect to their homicide problem (Papachristos, 2013, p.9). These social and economic opportunities such as gaining territory and drug trafficking have created a hardship on law enforcement officials and others in the community to overcome the riddance of gangs in these violent communities of Chicago.

Chicago's increased homicide rates relating to gun violence most frequently located in the South and West sides (Chicago Tribune, 2019) have sparked a question as to what is causing this criminal activity to occur. With a focus on delinquent subcultures, Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin proposed the theory of Differential Opportunity to explain how deviant behavior results from delinquent subcultures. Their theory was based on a mixture of findings from Merton’s Anomie Theory, Shaw & Mckay's Social Disorganization Theory and Sutherland's Differential Association Theory. Cloward and Ohlin found that within socially disorganized neighborhoods, there are various degrees of social organizations. They found that there were criminal, conflict and retreatist gangs. Cloward and Ohlin interpreted that each subculture was engaging in different crimes due to the opportunities established in each neighborhood; Criminal gangs were involved in income-producing offenses such as theft, Conflict gangs were involved in fighting essentially showing who is more powerful, and retreatist gangs were focused on drugs and alcohol trade. Cloward and Ohlin argued that these gangs formalized because of illegitimate opportunities in their neighborhood and that deviant behavior results from “Learning environments” that allow them to apply information to perform desired skills and abilities in order to survive in their community. Narrowing in on Cloward and Ohlin’s types of gangs, Conflict gangs are mostly associated with Chicago’s increased homicide rates and gun violence. With correspondence to Chicago’s South and West sides, Conflict gangs are more or less found in lower class poverty ridden neighborhoods. According to Criminological theories: introduction, evaluation, and application, it states “Such gangs (Conflict gangs) are found in lower class ethinc neighborhoods organized around stable adult criminal patterns and values”. With illicit organized crime available in these neighborhoods, Criminal opportunities arise and make citizens, particularly younger teens, vulnerable to conform to gang affiliated violence providing criminal role models to teach and show the ins and outs of how gangs work as a community.

With ties to Chicago’s homicide rates, one article states “ Yet there are deeper societal problems at play as well, including long histories of poverty, joblessness, segregation, and neglect in these crime-ridden areas” (Sweeney, Gorner, 2016, P. 4). These problems that occur in these neighborhoods provoke factors of normlessness and limit legitimate opportunities of becoming successful. Also to add, a lot of these communities that had high rates of crime, especially homicide, still continue to have the highest rates of homicide (Papachristos, 2013, p.7). Furthermore, the textbook states “...racial and ethnic minorities, especially those in lower class neighborhoods of large urban centers, are most likely to be deprived of legitimate educational and occupational opportunities. Therefore, high rates of delinquency are to be expected…”. With statistics represented by the Chicago Tribune, we see that these homicide rates occur far more frequently in Chicago’s South and West sides especially in the African American population. Overall with the statistics provided by the Chicago Tribune, they state that there has been 323 homicides within the black, non- hispanic community, so far in the year of 2019. These statistics of homicide rates, compared to any other community, show a spike that is far more drastic than compared to any other ethnic group. Also in the article 48 Years of Crime in Chicago it states, “...homicides are more likely to involve a gang member than not”. Portrayal of gang related crimes such as homicides can be related to that, much of the homicides that occur in the South and West sides of Chicago can be from a result of members of gangs or to be from gang - on gang violence. Subsequently, Cloward and Ohlin's Differential Opportunity Theory explains the high rates of homicides in Chicago's South and West sides with aspect to delinquent subcultures resulting from localized neighborhoods lack of opportunities.

Means of establishing ways to deter homicide rates and gun violence can be implemented through providing legitimate means of success to the lower class. Cloward and Ohlin's research of Differential Opportunity Theory with a focus on Conflict gangs discussed how many delinquencies resulted in gang affiliated violence due to the deprivation of legitimate opportunities. This ultimately produces a strain toward delinquent activities, and social organizations of the neighborhoods. To reduce the increase of gangs, specifically conflict gangs, that perish most of the South and West sides of Chicago, a demand for legitimate opportunities is stressed by both individual and societal factors; As a society, promotion of economic prosperity, creation of new jobs, and lowering the unemployment rates and individual factors such as expanding opportunities for example,the creation of new jobs, education, and skill training could give opportunities to the lower class in hopes to steer them away from illegal activities. The ideas that Cloward and Ohlin discovered would draw out the behavior that embeds in these crime ridden areas with hopes to limit the vulnerable influences of resulting to gang activities to pursue as a career. Cloward and Ohlin implied that illicit opportunities presented in these poverty ridden poor neighborhoods and social structures ultimately result in different types of gangs. Ultimately, the effects of homicide rates and gun violence runs directly with gang related activities. Overall, their input on illegitimate opportunities in relation to the neighborhood environment is a huge influential factor that portrays gang related violence, particularly homicides.


  • Akers, R. L., Sellers, C. S., & Jennings, W. G. (2017). Criminological theories: introduction, evaluation, and application. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Andrew V. Papachristos (2013) 48 Years of Crime in Chicago: A Descriptive Analysis of Serious Crime Trends from
  • 1965 to 2013, ISPS Working Paper, ISPS13-023
  • Chicago Tribune. (2019, November 26). Tracking Chicago homicide victims. Retrieved December 6, 2019, from
  • Ford, M. (2017, January 25). What's Actually Causing Chicago's Homicide Spike? Retrieved December 7, 2019, from
  • Sweeney, A., & Gorner, J. (2016, July 1). 10 shootings a day: Complex causes of Chicago's spiking violence. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from          
16 December 2021
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