IT was movie night in Demarco Kennedy’s Far South Side apartment.
The 32-year-old railroad worker’s wife and three children waited for him in the living room, with plans to watch the animated film “Rio 2.” He sat at his dining room table, paying bills.
Kennedy’s kids, coached in the past by their wary parents, dropped to the floor.
As the children attempted to crawl into a hallway, Kennedy’s wife saw him fall over. The left side of his face was streaked with blood from a bullet wound.
“He was grabbing my hand real hard. He was trying to say something and he couldn’t,” Nicole Cooper said Tuesday, recounting the August evening when her husband was slain. “And when he released my hand, that’s when he passed.”
With that random bullet through the family’s window, Kennedy became another homicide victim in Chicago, one of more than 750 in 2016.
A persistent reality for some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, violence unnerved far reaches of the city in 2016 as shootings and homicides soared. Not since the drug-fueled bloodshed of the mid-1990s had the city witnessed such a toll.
Some neighborhoods, already scarred and gutted by years of violence, suffered inordinately. But the danger spread into more neighborhoods, too, and randomness became an all-too-familiar element to many shootings.
Grim milestones added up: The deadliest month in 23 years. The deadliest day in 13 years. 4,300 people shot. As the year wound down, with the promise of a new year coming soon, a violent Christmas Day.
“It’s a shame. It’s a shame,” said Rafi Peterson, a community activist in the Chicago Lawn community on the Southwest Side. “Those lives cannot be replaced.
“How did this happen? Why is this continuing to happen?”
For months, police, politicians and residents have asked the same questions. In a recent interview at police headquarters, Superintendent Eddie Johnson and his second-in-command, First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro, speculated on the rise in homicides. They blamed, in part, a perceived willingness by criminals to settle disputes with guns, and what they say is a failure on the part of the justice system to hold them accountable.
“We used to respond to gang fights in progress … now we respond to shots fired,” Navarro said. “People fought. Now everyone picks up the gun. Just like that.”
Through Dec. 26, 754 people were slain in Chicago compared with 480 during the same period last year, an increase of 57 percent, according to official Police Department statistics. The last time Chicago tallied a similar number of killings was in 1997, when 761 people were slain. Shooting incidents also jumped by 46 percent this year to 3,512 from 2,398, the statistics show.
What’s more, crimes went up by double digits in nearly every major category, including criminal sexual assaults, robberies and thefts.
Month by month, Chicago’s homicide numbers have ticked upward. On cold days and warm days, snowy days and during holiday weekends alike.
Kennedy’s slaying on Aug. 9 in the Rosemoor neighborhood was among the 92 homicides across Chicago that month, the most the city had seen for a single month since July 1993 when there were 99. The weekend immediately before Halloween ended with 59 people shot, 17 fatally, the deadliest weekend of 2016. In November, homicides totaled 77, the worst for that month since 78 in 1994.
The Police Department statistics do not include about an additional 20 killings on area expressways, police-involved shootings, other homicides in which a person was killed in self-defense or death investigations.