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Terrorised Chicago residents plead for police crackdown as gang war murders soar


The cluster of young men hanging out on the porch of the run-down brick home cast menacing stares at the unknown car as a "spotter", a teen on a bicycle, talked into a mobile phone.

Beneath a tree across the street, burned red candle wax was the last remnant of an impromptu shrine for a 13-year-old boy, Tyquan Tyler, shot dead two weeks earlier by a killer just a few years older than him.

The assailant had run through an alleyway past a boarded-up home, mown down his victim and then disappeared back down the same route into a neighboring street before the "ATM boys" could respond with their Glock pistols.

In the killing zones of Chicago's predominantly black and poor South Side, turf warfare is no longer waged for control of districts but street to street.

A splintering of traditional gangs into smaller factions - known as crews or cliques - with ever-younger members desperate to prove their tough-guy credentials is fuelling a murder rate that makes swathes of Chicago more lethal than Afghanistan.

Even as violent crime has decreased in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the murder rate soared here by 38 per cent in the first six months of the year. There were 259 murders in that period, with another 18 so far in July.

"This is a block-to-block war here, a different dynasty on every street," said a dreadlocked young man heavily inked in gang tattoos who calls himself "Killer".

"All the black brothers just want to get rich, but we got no jobs and no hope. We want the violence to stop but you ain't safe if you ain't got your pistol with you. Too many friends, too many men are being killed. We don't even cry at funerals no -more. Nobody expects to live past 21 here."

The victims and killers are mainly black males aged between 15 and 35, often with gang affiliations - but not exclusively. A seven-year-old girl, Heaven Sutton, was buried this month after being gunned down at her mother's street sweet store. And last week, two girls aged 12 and 13 were shot and badly-wounded as they walked home from a newly-opened community center.

There have also been recent gang reprisal attacks along the city centre's "Magnificent Mile", an impressive stretch of skyscrapers and up-market stores, prompting fears that the violence is spreading.

The mayhem, playing out within ambulance siren range of the Chicago home of Barack and Michelle Obama, has not just put a city on edge. It is also unleashing a passionate national debate on policing tactics.

For the upsurge in gang killings has followed a decision by the city's mayor Rahm Emanuel and police chief Garry McCarthy, both new in the job last year, to dismantle specialist anti-gang units and instead switch more officers to the beat.

But many terrorised locals are now pleading for a return to the aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics of the task forces that were long decried by black community leaders.

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