TOPICS > Nation > Race Matters

Chicago’s high murder rates drive exodus of black middle class

May 15, 2016 at 4:37 PM EDT
Chicago is the nation’s third most populous city, but holds the unenviable title of being America’s murder capital, with 489 homicides documented last year. And since most of the victims are black, the high murder rates have provoked a gradual exodus of the black middle class. Correspondent Brandis Friedman of WTTW reports from Chicago.
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Read the full transcript below: 

TRAVIS FAMILY: “Hit me!”

FRIEDMAN: It’s game time at the Travis household.

TRAVIS FAMILY: “Ooohh, cheaters never win…”

FRIEDMAN: Kyle and Carla Travis moved with their two children from Chicago to the suburb of Matteson three years ago. They’ve been in this house for a year.

CARLA TRAVIS: Love the neighborhood, plenty of kids. Not too far from the school that they go to.

KYLE TRAVIS: In Matteson, it’s a different sense of community to me. Definitely one where you see a sense of freedom with students and the kids and whomever to come go as they please. // You need to be on a heightened sense of awareness, so to speak, in the city.

FRIEDMAN: That heightened awareness became outright fear after the violence hit home in their old neighborhood of Bronzeville, a center of African-American culture in Chicago.

KYLE TRAVIS: It was absolutely something I didn’t think would happen to me at the age in which I was. Was pursuing my masters, as far as for health administration…family…and doing well!

FRIEDMAN: in broad daylight, Kyle was driving home from the grocery store, waiting at a red light, when he heard gunshots.

KYLE TRAVIS: Bullet came through the passenger side window, struck me on this side of arm, exited here. If I would’ve maybe just taken foot off brake for a split second, it could’ve possibly struck me in the cheek or the head or whatever may have you, I mean, who knows?

FRIEDMAN: Kyle was able to drive himself to a nearby hospital, where he was treated and sent home with bandaged arm.

The couple’s decision to leave the city was accelerated by their concern for five-year old chase and seven-year old Emerson.

The Travis family is part of a trend here in Chicago – on average more than ten thousand African-Americans leave the city every year…And data shows an increase in the number of blacks living in the suburbs. Researchers are beginning to call this migration “black flight.”

From 2000 and 2014, just over 200-thousand African-Americans left Chicago, that’s roughly one out of every five blacks.

University of Illinois at Chicago urban planning professor Janet Smith says gun violence is a key factor in the migration, especially for families with children.

JANET SMITH: When we map over population loss and look at where crime is, and we look at the fact that that population loss has a lot of children, you see a relationship. We’re seeing families first more so than households, you know, single people or two-person households with no kids.

FRIEDMAN: The city’s violence turned Tierra Winston into a suburbanite. She and her 14-year old son, Tyriek, were constantly worried about their safety in their old neighborhood, Roseland, one of the city’s most economically depressed.

TIERRA WINSTON: There’s lot of gang violence, lot of drug trafficking. Sometimes I would be very leery about him riding a bike, going outside. I’d have to keep the windows open so I can kind of keep an eye on him.

FRIEDMAN: At home one school night, two years ago, they too had a close call.

TYRIEK BRIGGS: I heard gunshots, coming, like running, running past my window. So, I went to my mom’s room because she was asleep, and I woke her up. And I told her I heard gunshots through my window, and then I heard people running.

I was, like, pretty scared.

FRIEDMAN: No bullets entered their apartment, and Tyriek was not hurt. But for Tierra, that was enough. She decided to move to the suburb of Dolton.

WINSTON: As soon as I walked in, I was like: this is it! This is my house.

FRIEDMAN: Now Tyriek practices his jump shot without the fear of gunshots.

WINSTON: It’s been different. I love my house, love the neighborhood.

FRIEDMAN: The neighborhoods the Winston and the Travis families have left behind now grapple with a dwindling population.

Chicago urban league president Shari Runner says middle class black flight is hurting the city’s tax base.

SHARI RUNNER, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO URBAN LEAGUE: So, if you’re thinking about being a planner, a city planner, you’re thinking about anticipating revenue from taxes from people who live and work in the city. All of those assumptions have to be re-looked at, and how does that impact city as a whole in terms of how is it going to make that up and provide the resources it needs as a city to provide for citizens.

FRIEDMAN: Runner says the city needs to invest more in better housing in these communities and in the young people who live in them.

RUNNER: We have program called Opportunity Works that specifically targets 16-to-24-year-olds to make sure that they’re job ready, that they have access to jobs so they can begin to be contributing parts of our community and will stay away from those other kinds of activities that will put them at risk for being involved in the juvenile justice system.

FRIEDMAN: Though leaving Chicago was a tough decision for the Travises, Kyle and Carla haven’t looked back.

KYLE TRAVIS: You can’t help anyone else, whether it be through civic engagement, social responsibility, etcetera, if you’re not at peace at home. What’s most important for us is protecting the family nucleus.

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