CHICAGO -- After years away, Anthony Davis returned home to Chicago last year to take care of his elderly father.
The predominantly African-American neighborhood on the city’s south side where the 51-year-old Davis grew up was unrecognizable.
Abandoned homes dot the landscape and the once vibrant community had fallen prey to the gun violence plaguing America’s third-largest city.
“Growing up, there was really hardly any shootings,” Davis, who works at Loyola University Medical Center, a Chicago-area hospital, told AFP.
“Everybody knew everybody,” he said. “There was hardly any quote-unquote bad stuff happening.”
Plenty of “bad stuff” happened in the years Davis was gone.
Chicago experienced a near 20-year record number of murders last year, prompting President Donald Trump to regularly single out the city for criticism.
“What the hell is going on in Chicago?” Trump asked during a speech this month. “For the second year in a row, a person was shot in Chicago every three hours.”
The good news is that violence actually declined in Chicago in 2017.
The bad news is that it remains alarmingly high.
As of mid-December, there had been 635 murders in Chicago — a 15 percent drop from the previous year, according to the Chicago Police Department.
The total number of shootings incidents was down 21 percent to 2,719.
Still, murders remain at levels unseen since the 1990s, when the crack cocaine epidemic ravaged communities across the United States and fueled a spike in crime.
As the city’s gun violence spiraled seemingly out of control last year, it raised alarms among officials and residents alike, and brought about a number of initiatives to help stem the tide.
City officials have credited the reduction in murders and shootings this year to a push to hire 1,100 additional police officers and a focus on new crime-fighting technologies.
“Communities that were once under a cloud of gun violence are beginning to see signs of optimism and hope,” police chief Eddie Johnson said this month.
The city has relied on more data crunching to help predict violence and deployed more high-tech devices that help detect gunshots and alert police even before residents can make an emergency call.
Police also are becoming increasingly adept at finding criminals through social media.
In December, they infiltrated an invitation-only Facebook group where drugs and guns were being sold — netting dozens of arrests.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Facebook representatives will meet city officials in January to “better collaborate to stop illegal activity online before it leads to violence on our streets.”
Still, in pure numbers, Chicago remains the source of the most shootings and murders in the nation.