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Why is Chicago a murder capital? Clues from a bloody month

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As Chicago’s homicide rate has surged throughout the year, the police department’s tally of the previous month’s body count has taken on an air of the routine. Even as the city’s murder rate has passed new milestones, the figures have provided little more than a headline. And little insight into the causes and victims of the city’s violence.

Chicago reporter Don Babwin set out to shed light on that violence in the wake of the announcement that August was the deadliest month in the city in two decades.

Babwin used public record requests to secure the list of 91 homicide victims in August. He then began digging.

What he found told a disturbing story about how the city’s murders are highly concentrated in a handful of minority neighborhoods: In a city that’s one-third black, the overwhelming majority of those murdered in August _ 71 _ were African American. Another 11 had Hispanic surnames. Almost half were in their teens or early 20s.

In a city that’s one-third black, the overwhelming majority of those murdered in August – 71 – were African American.

Babwin further found that more than 70 percent of those shot to death appeared on the police department’s “Strategic Subject List,” which includes 1,400 people considered likely targets of violence based on gang involvement or criminal records.

Those facts told a shocking enough story. But Babwin continued to push to provide a deeper portrait of Chicago’s murder victims.

He found the grieving mother of a 14-year-old murder victim through public record searches,getting her by chance when she picked up the phone at a relative’s house. Her heartbreaking story _ including that she once made up a story about him punching her so police would lock him up and keep him off the streets _ provided the compelling lead-in to Don’s story.

For digging that provided unique insight into a problem that has been reported on extensively, Babwin wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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