Chicago 2021: A look back at the great stories of the year

As 2021 began, many of us expected the New Year to bring better times. Well, this transition has taken longer than we expected.

In the meantime, we had many other challenges to overcome and victories to celebrate.

Ray Cortopassi of WGN reflects on the events that shaped our past year.


If one word could describe 2021, “upheaval” comes to mind. Much of what happened in 2021 was a direct response to the events that began in 2020.

Just six days after the start of the new year, pro-Trump protesters store up the Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

In Springfield, there was a peaceful transfer of power when State Representative Chris Welch became the first black speaker in Illinois history, replacing his mentor, Michael Madigan. Madigan was fired and then quit entirely while mired in the ComEd corruption scandal.


March 11 marked the first anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson had started rolling out their vaccines, but it was a rocky start in Chicago with the appointment request sparking a rush.

Then the rush turned into a scandal. Loretto Hospital came under fire on charges of misdirecting wealthy friends. By then, politics and division had already taken hold. Vaccination campaigns and vaccine protests coexisted as mandates were reviewed and implemented.

In June, cases declined significantly in Illinois, before climbing again with the delta variant. And then another threat appeared, the omicron variant, making its presence felt for the first time in Chicago on December 7th.

As 2021 progressed, more sites began to open as the number of COVID-19 declined and vaccinations increased. Lollapalooza brought the music back to Grant Park at the end of July. In August, the Chicago scenes made their long-awaited return, 17 months after dark.


More controversy for the police as March turns into April. Outrage and protests in Little Village after 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot dead by police. On April 15, Chicago stopped to watch, frame by frame, the murderous exchange. Officer Eric Stillman’s body camera footage showed the boy dropped a gun a fraction of a second before he was shot, turning to the officer.

A trying year for the police then turned into a month of mourning in August. Constable Ella French was shot and killed by one of the two suspects arrested during a traffic stop. His partner, Carlos Yanez Jr., survived serious injuries and is still on the mend. The suspects, two brothers, face charges.

Violence and delinquency

Another great 2021 story has touched almost every one of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. Until the end of the year, homicides have increased by more than 60% compared to before the pandemic and shootings by almost 70%.

And 196 days after the start of the new year, violence on Chicago’s freeways has reached a new high. The highway shootings topped the 2020 total with more than five months to go. In fact, 2021 ended with more than 261 highway shootings.

Another worrying trend for cars and crime in 2021 is carjacking – with younger perpetrators. In mid-summer, WGN Investigates discovered that 84 minors had been charged with carjacking, more than the number of adults.

Another high profile crime trend re-emerged throughout the year, organized retail crime.

Yet again this week, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said that in 2021 the CPD seized a record 12,000 firearms and wiped out 50% of homicides, the best rate in 19 years. .


Residents of the nearby western suburb of Woodridge were still cleaning up an EF3 tornado that hit the community this summer, after first hitting parts of Naperville.

Four hundred houses were affected and 150 sustained significant damage on June 20.


Drastic changes have also affected the city’s sports scene.

As the White Sox made their way into baseball playoff season, playing at the famous Iowa “Field of Dreams”, the Cubs cleaned up the house, swapping fan favorites Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

And while one team’s championship legacy has faded, another’s legacy has faded.

A sexual abuse scandal has hit the Blackhawks surrounding the 2010 Stanley Cup team. An investigation revealed that the reception had ignored an allegation of sexual assault.

Meanwhile, the Bears have captured the hearts and hopes of fans by signing their future quarterback, Justin Fields. The team then rocked the city with more news about its future, making a deal to buy Arlington International Racecourse, potentially setting up a move to the suburbs.

And in a memorable victory, the Chicago Sky brought a World Championship back to the city, their first WNBA title.

In the courtroom

The city was also captivated by three remarkable events. Starting with Chicago R&B superstar R. Kelly in September, when a jury found him guilty of decades-long racketeering and sex trafficking of young victims.

Then in November, the second explosive verdict. Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of the murder of two men during the unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

And in early December, Jussie Smollett had his day in court. Jurors found Smollett guilty of five of the six crimes. It capped nearly three years of legal drama.

Obama Presidential Center

After five years of legal battles, gentrification issues, and a federal review, Barack and Michelle Obama have finally put ceremonial shovels in the mud in Jackson Park.

The Obama Presidential Center is scheduled to open in 2026.


By the end of the year, other live events are also making a comeback for the city’s holiday season. From the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival to the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting.

As Chicago closes the chapter on 2021 in a new wave of eggs, it also sets the stage for hopefully completing the comeback in 2022.

Other highlights in 2021:

Chicago Public Schools have hired a new superintendent, Pedro Martinez, the first Latino to hold the job permanently.

Lake Shore Drive has been renamed in honor of Jean Baptiste Dusable.