The series ended more neatly than I thought it would.
In Chicagoland’s series finale, the city’s police force doubles down for the Chicago Marathon. The day of the race, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy breathes a sigh relief over what turns out to be false alarm and the marathon takes place incident-free. He marvels over how amazing the city is as the last runners reach the finish.
Fenger High Principal Elizabeth Dozier admits she doesn’t “know if we’ll be here in five years.” Her friend restaurateur Billy Dec links her up with Fenger alumna Juanita Jordan (Michael Jordan’s wife) so the three can work together on a fundraiser for the school. The event raises $34,000; Jordan tells the crowd she’ll be adding a matching grant of $35,000. Upon hearing that, Dozier cries.
The progressive caucus in the city council wants Rahm Emanuel out. We hear them talk, but we also hear from some of the city’s top political reporters, none of whom think that any challenger has a chance.
Chicago Ideas Week appears to be a success, featuring an installation by noted graffiti artist and sculptor Hebru Brantley.
Then we return to Lee McCollum, who was voted Fenger’s prom king in the second episode. By now, he seems to have gone off the grid. No one from the school has been able to reach him since he graduated, and yet Dozier and her colleagues catch him in a rap video where he’s blowing smoke and calling out his rivals. Though other scenes in the series feel managed, this is a rare plot line that feels downright contrived.
When Dozier finally gets a 20 on Lee and calls him, the cameras are there when he answers. She meets with him later to tell him that the school will be setting him up for college. Cameras —peering through a window —clearly weren’t welcome in the room though Dozier’s mic is on. It feels somewhat intrusive and unnecessary, as the last seven episodes already convinced us of what Dozier will do for her students.
I’m not sure why that scene went down like that. This certainly isn’t a show that’s made its way on happy endings, and the city’s ongoing pension crisis ensured that at least one of the city’s largest problems would end in an ellipsis by the time they stopped taping.
Now, I don’t want to understate the value of series like this. With that said, it has left me with a lot of big questions, mostly because episode after episode, I felt the producers had just skimmed the surface. I wrote about how the series reminds of the nightly news at times two weeks back. Longform brings the expectations for deeper investigation. There were too many times we didn’t get that with Chicagoland.
One of the last things we hear is that that 2013 saw a 18 percent reduction in homicides over the year before. McCarthy reveals this proudly to the press, but in a meeting with staff he says, “We’re pleased, but we’re not satisfied.”
We know today that the trend has stayed downward. This March, McCarthy told reporters that city’s murder rate dropped for the sixth straight quarter. This week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that it was forming a special violent crime unit in Chicago, to help stave the murder epidemic. Despite an absurdly bloody Easter weekend in which more than 40 people were shot, nine of them killed, McCarthy insists that the city’s death toll is still, in fact, down.
While looking for a more detailed explanation for the crime drop (that the series didn’t provide), I stumbled upon a story published earlier this month in Chicago Magazine. The piece challenges the veracity of the number of reported homicides, giving examples of would-be murders that curiously had seem to have been miscategorized. Sources suggest that pressure on all sides to get the numbers down pushed officials to be more loose about which cases were homicides and which weren’t. It’s a deeply reported, powerful read. Just a taste:
Midmorning, [Maurice] Harris saw about five men walking up the block. His crew scattered. Harris got a tap on the shoulder, then a punch in the face, according to the police report. Moments later, he was on the sidewalk, taking repeated punches and kicks and blows to the head with a metal pipe. When the beatdown finally ended, Harris told a witness that he couldn’t feel his legs.
He was rushed to Loretto Hospital, then transferred to two other hospitals—Mount Sinai and Rush—as his condition worsened. On March 19, Harris began slurring his words, and his arms went numb. Doctors put in a breathing tube; they also diagnosed a spinal cord injury. On March 21, six days after the beating, Harris died.
Police recorded the Maurice Harris case as a battery, which is indisputably true. But not as a homicide.
At first, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said that an autopsy was inconclusive. The pathologist, according to the police report, “deferred the cause and manner of death pending further studies.”
Obviously, Chicagoland’s producers, trying to give audiences a sense of the city’s most important issues, weren’t going to dedicate the time and muscle that Chicago Mag gave to this investigation. But reading it did make me wonder: With a crime drop that’s been considered miraculous, firefighters on edge about possibly losing their pensions, 50 schools closed in one stroke — all huge themes in the series — how could Emanuel and McCarthy have gone so unchallenged in their interviews?
The series finale will be replayed tomorrow at 8pm. It’s worth the watch. But the Chicago Magazine report (and note, it’s only part 1, part 2 is forthcoming) is even more worthy of your attention.
Cassie Owens is a regular contributor to Next City. Her writing has also appeared at CNN.com, Philadelphia City Paper and other publications.