Chicago, the nation's third largest city, ends 2016 with more homicides than the two larger cities — New York and Los Angeles — put together. Everyone is shocked but not everyone is surprised.
More than 750 people were killed in Chicago in 2016, the highest total since 1997, and more than 4,300 were wounded by firearms.
Dr. Gary Slutkin, the University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist who founded the CeaseFire Illinois violence-reduction program also known as Cure Violence, warned Gov. Bruce Rauner in a March 2015 letter of a probable surge in Chicago shootings if the program's funding was not restored.
A $4.5 million grant from the state represented most of the funding for CeaseFire Illinois, which serves sites across six cities in the state, Slutkin said.
"Lives depend on this program," he wrote.
Sure, just about every social service program makes life-or-death pleas when its funding is cut. Crime rises and falls for a variety of reasons. But the doctor had some startling statistics on his side.
Slutkin had seen similar interruptions in funding precede violent crime surges in Chicago four times since CeaseFire took to Chicago streets in 2001, too often to be brushed off as mere coincidence.
After a 2007 interruption in funding by Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, for example, the program shut down 15 sites and shootings spiked. Funding was restored a year later — and violence returned to its previous level.
Now, a similarly tragic trend has followed suspension in March 2015 of the $4.5 state million grant that represented most of the funding to CeaseFire Illinois. More than a year later, a six-month spending plan that is now expiring granted $4.4 million to CeaseFire Illinois.
Slutkin, as he told me in a telephone interview, hates to see that his prediction was right.
Now the only one of Chicago's 22 police districts to experience a reduction in shootings over the past year also happened to be the only district in which CeaseFire has been able to consistently maintain its full program of operations.
Also, having expanded to 22 other cities, including New York and Los Angeles, Cure Violence now sadly faces its biggest hurdles in Chicago, largely because, after years of overspending, the city and state governments are broke.
Republican Rauner campaigned with promises to balance the state's budget, but as governor he has insisted on including other reforms before he'll pass a budget. That has drawn fierce opposition from the state's Democratic-controlled legislature, and Illinois is now into its second year without a full budget.
As you should have guessed by now, I like the Cure Violence approach. No program is perfect, but Slutkin's approach of treating violence epidemics in much the same way that we think of conventional epidemics has proved its merits in numerous evaluations by the Justice Department and university studies.
Perhaps you saw it featured in an award-winning Kartemquin Films documentary called "The Interrupters," which can be viewed on the PBS "Frontline" website. It is worth seeing by those who are too eagerly willing to write off high crime communities and the people who inhabit them as a lost cause. Inside every "ghetto," I argue, there's a neighborhood trying to break free.
Slutkin, a former World Health Organization official, constructed the Cure Violence program to treat violence like a contagious disease. Most violent crimes result from personal beefs. A minor personal offense quickly escalates into a violent response to save face — and possibly leads to more retaliatory violence.
Cure Violence enlists and dispatches "interrupters," including former gangbangers and other ex-offenders, like germ-fighting antibodies into high-violence neighborhoods to use their connections and street credibility to defuse potential violence before it boils over.
Done right, it encourages family members, friends, hospital workers and others who might not want to call police and have nowhere else to turn to call in the "interrupters," who try to intervene and settle the grievances peacefully.
If you wait until after police have arrived, as one interrupter put it, "it's too late."
Yet, since Cure Violence programs most effective interrupters include ex-offenders, cooperation with police tends to be at arms-length. Police sometimes complain that the interrupters aren't helping them enough and trust in police is so low in many neighborhoods that the interrupters don't want to be seen as becoming too cozy with the cops.
As I say, no program is perfect. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution to urban violence like that faced by Chicago and smaller cities that have even higher violence rates. We need to try everything that works. CureViolence appears to have passed that test.
As for the funding challenges, we need to ask in a city that has become desensitized too often by killings of small children and other innocent bystanders, how much are the lives of our children worth? Priceless.
Clarence Page, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/pagespage.