Where does narrative come from: Just this once, we'll admit it! We were surprised by a factoid we heard this week. (We can't remember where.)
We heard that Chicago had fewer homicides last year than in any year since the 1960s.
Don't get us wrong! We knew that homicides were down in Chicago as compared to the city's worst old years. But we were surprised when we looked up the numbers dating to 1965.
In 2014, there were 432 homicides in Chicago. But according to the leading authority, that was the lowest number since 1965:
Homicides in Chicago, selected yearsJust to be clear, these are homicides, not homicides by shooting. Also, we're not masking any secret trends by the years we've selected. To review every year since 1965, you can just click here.
Don't get us wrong! Given what is being counted, 432 is a large number. Still, the long list of numbers at that link suggest two basic points:
It's intriguing to ponder the way journalistic frameworks get established. Also, it's easy to see why there were demands for tougher policing back in the 1990s.
When journalists look at all those numbers, why do they create a "Murder City USA" framework for Chicago? Has Spike Lee been paying them off?
By way of contrast, why do we hear so little about the fact that the number has been cut by more than half since the most homicidal years?
We can't answer those questions. That said, these years were most homicidal:
Homicides in Chicago, 1991-1994According to our statisticians, 432 is a much smaller number than any of those. You almost never see this framework applied to events in Chicago.
432 is a lot. It's also way fewer than 943.
Each fact is part of this basic story. For whatever reason, we pretty much hear only one.