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Chicago registers its 500th homicide of 2012 – the highest number since 2008

Public-housing and school policies, gang activity, access to guns, and budget cuts for social programs have all been cited as factors in Chicago’s homicide rate.

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Much of the action that the city has taken this year has tried to take down gangs: Some 250 vacant buildings were demolished because they were considered gathering places for gangs, the police department partnered with antiviolence group CeaseFire to increase conflict mediation on the streets, and McCarthy has initiated a new system to assess turf affiliations to prevent retaliation shootings.

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However, focusing solely on gangs is misguided, says Mr. Williams, among others who study crime. He says the shootings are often random, interpersonal, or petty.

“Guns are definitely a problem; gangs, absolutely not,” he says. “These are kids who, over the last 10 years or so, have been extremely marginalized, and this is their response to that marginalization. They feel stuck with a lot of rage. They can clearly see people in other neighborhoods making a lot of progress and being mobile, but they feel stuck in their communities and feel afraid. And because they have easy access to guns, it’s a form of desperation.”

Harold Pollack agrees and sees the wider problem connected to budget cuts for social programs, especially for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a unit within the US Department of Justice that provides programs and funding to local, state, and county law-enforcement agencies.

Mr. Pollack, who is co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which studies public policy related to policing, says the recession has accelerated problems in inner cities. The federal government, he adds, “can’t expect local governments to solve all the problems on their own.”

“I look at the deficit conversation in Washington and look at neighborhoods in Chicago and think there’s a dramatic disconnect in priorities with what’s really at stake. I don’t see the same sense of urgency for the economic and social challenges in urban America,” he says.

The 500th homicide in Chicago was of Nathaniel Jackson, a black, middle-aged man who lived in Austin, a neighborhood on the far West Side. Mr. Jackson was shot while standing outside a grocery store. He was just released from prison in the summer, where he served a sentence for robbery.

Although blacks represented 33 percent of the city’s population in 2010, according to the US Census Bureau, city police data show that blacks represent about 76 percent of all victims.

Hispanics are 16 percent of Chicago’s homicide victims. They made up 29 percent of Chicago’s population in 2010.

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