Chicago outguns New York as America's murder capital

Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper, hangout of Al Capone and home to Barack Obama, has claimed a new and unwanted title as America's murder capital.

The city registered more murders than any other US community in 2012, surpassing New York for the first time, despite having a population a third of the size.

There were 500 murders in Chicago last year, up from 431 in 2011, according to crime statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. During the same 12 months, murders in New York fell from 515 to 419. Most violent crime in Chicago is focused on predominantly African-American and deprived neighbourhoods of the city's South Side where street gangs wage violent turf wars and there is a proliferation of stolen guns. Just yesterday 11 people were injured, including a 3-year-old child, after a shooting in a city park.

President Obama cut his political teeth as a community organiser there and the wails of ambulance and police sirens are a constant backdrop to life in their home district of Hyde Park, a pleasant South Side enclave close to some of the city's most dangerous streets.

Chicago's reputation for violence dates back to the days of Prohibition, when Capone and rival mobsters battled to control the bootleg alcohol business.

But New York had long had a much higher murder tally than the "Windy City".

Residents of neither city are as likely to be victims as in Detroit, however, where 386 people were murdered last year.

That is one for every 1832 locals, meaning a resident of Detroit is three times as likely to be murdered as one in Chicago.

Across the US, violent crime increased marginally after a decade of decline and guns were used in 70 per cent of murders.

In Chicago's South Side, the dangers were all too clear on the first day back at school last month as parents and escorts walked their children alongside specially-designated "safe passage" corridors.

Several hundred newly-hired security officers in bright neon vests joined armed police officers to guard roads running through gang boundaries, past derelict houses and abandoned plots, as pupils as young as four were escorted to school through urban war-zones along 53 new routes marked with bright yellow "safe passage" signs.

The programme was started in 2009 in the wake of the killing of a 16-year-old boy after he left his South Side high school one afternoon.

Rahm Emanuel, the city's mayor and Obama's former chief of staff, has ramped it up significantly this year in response to a spate of killings of children caught up in the city's violence.

He called the overwhelming security presence an "all-hands-on-deck" operation. In a murder that shocked the nation, Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was shot dead days after she performed at a presidential inauguration celebration for Obama in Washington in January. She had previously recorded an anti-gang video.

Other notorious killings have included a seven-year-old girl shot dead last summer as she stood at her mother's street-side sweet stand, and a six-month-old baby girl who was killed when a gang member opened fire on her father.

A candlelight vigil was held this week honouring police officers killed in the line of duty. Hundreds filled Gold Star Memorial Park, where the names of 567 were read out.

Even as the new statistics starkly illustrated how the city is plagued by violence, Mr Emanuel was this week touting some hopeful signs. Murders in Chicago were down to 286 from 366 for the same period in 2012, though still marginally up from 278 in 2011.

The murder rate is down 22 per cent, and down 45 per cent in the 20 neighbourhoods targeted since February for additional policing.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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