Chicago holidays in blood and bullets

PETER NICKEAS AND NICK CAREY
Last updated 10:10 08/07/2014

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For 10 minutes, it seemed like the shooting was everywhere in the South Chicago neighbourhood.

It started when someone shot and wounded a couple, then two people fired at the shooter, then there was a chase and shots exchanged and a man sitting on a porch was hit. Responding officers kept cutting each other off on their radios as they reported other gunfire in the area late on Sunday night and early Monday morning.

Then the heavy equipment rolled in: A helicopter and SUVs packed with lockers of rifles. SWAT teams in green coveralls patrolled the streets with uniformed officers.

It was just one of dozens of shooting scenes across Chicago over the long Fourth of July weekend. In all, at least 82 people were shot, 14 of them fatally, since Thursday afternoon when two woman were shot as they sat outside a two-flat within a block of Garfield Park.

Five of the people were shot by police over 36 hours on Friday and Saturday, including two boys 14 and 16 who were killed when they allegedly refused to drop their guns.

Many of the long weekend's shootings were on the South Side, clustered in the Englewood, Roseland, Gresham and West Pullman neighbourhoods that rank among the most violent in the city.

The victims ranged from the 14-year-boy shot by police in the Old Irving Park neighbourhood to a 66-year-old woman grazed in the head as she walked up the steps of her porch on the Far South Side. Most victims were in their late teens and 20s.

Each night of the long holiday weekend, at least a dozen people were shot in the greatest burst of gun violence Chicago has seen this year.

- From Thursday night into Friday, three people were killed and 10 others wounded. An attack outside a West Englewood salon left two men dead and an East Garfield Park shooting took the life of a 21-year-old woman.

- From Friday afternoon into Saturday, 20 people were shot, one fatally. The man who died had been flashing gang signs in a parking lot in the Clearing neighbourhood when someone told him to stop. When the man didn't, he was shot, police said.

- From Saturday night into Sunday morning, four people were killed and another 10 wounded.

- The bloodiest stretch of the weekend was a 13-hour period between 2.30pm on Sunday and 3.30am on Monday when four people were killed and at least another 26 wounded, many of them in critical condition. And the most chaotic scene was in South Chicago, where three people were wounded during a running gun battle.

The shooting started about 11.20pm Sunday when someone opened fire at two people who just left a store on Exchange Avenue south of 80th Street. A 25-year-old man was taken in critical condition to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a 19-year-old woman was stabilised at Advocate Christ Medical Center.

While the man was firing, two people on the street shot at him and a chase ensued, with the three exchanging gunfire through a vacant lot west toward Escanaba Avenue, police and neighbours said.

The three didn't hit each other but a 48-year-old man was caught in the crossfire while sitting on the porch. He was wounded in the ankle and taken to Jackson Park Hospital.
The shooting kicked off an hour of occasional chaos as responding officers kept hearing gunfire, first the exchange between the three, then an apparently unrelated volley of shots a few blocks west on Muskegon Avenue where police found shell casings on a porch.

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A 10-1 - a call for an officer in distress - was broadcast across the city because the shots were so close to police.

Officers from across the South Side responded, including tactical teams who had been ordered to wear their uniforms instead of plainclothes for the holiday weekend.

Police were radioing about hearing gunfire all over the neighbour, and a district lieutenant ordered a perimeter over a three-block-by-four-block area. No one was taken into custody.

As a helicopter circled overhead, someone shot up a house a few blocks south on Exchange Avenue, just outside the perimeter, about midnight. The gunfire was called over the police radio before any 911 calls were received, and officers ran down the street toward where the gunfire came from.

The house that was hit by gunfire, in the 8400 block of South Exchange, was near where a teen had been shot earlier in the day and police had responded to a call of a gang disturbance. A group of gang members had been hanging out outside and someone wanted them removed, police said.

About half an hour later, the neighbourhood had finally quieted down. "Release the perimeter," the lieutenant ordered, though he asked that patrol cars keep a watch on the four crime scenes.

BETTER TO SHOOT THAN DROP A GUN

At a news conference on Monday morning, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy called the violence "unacceptable", blaming it in part on a "proliferation of firearms".

McCarthy said gangs and repeated criminal offenders cherish their weapons and are more likely to engage in gun battles with police than discard their guns because of lax state and federal laws.

He has repeatedly called for mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.

"There is more of a sanction from their gangs for losing a weapon than there is to get arrested with an illegal firearm," McCarthy said at the press conference Monday. "Something's got to change."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has also called for tighter controls on firearms, condemned the shootings.

"This violence is unacceptable wherever it occurs in our city and all of us need to take a stand," he said in a statement on Monday, saying that solutions must go beyond policing.

Earlier this year, Emanuel announced a "summer safety" plan that called for 300 extra police officers to patrol over the Fourth of July weekend.

McCarthy said despite the wave of violence over the weekend, shooting deaths were down year over year through Sunday, with 185 so far this year compared with 196 through the same period in 2013.

Multiple shootings were reported around the United States over the holiday weekend. Police in Houston said on Monday that four people were shot at a dance early Saturday, including a 16-year-old boy who was critically wounded.

In St Louis, at least seven people were shot, three of them fatally, over the weekend, according to police.

And in Indiana, an Indianapolis police officer was killed in a late-night shootout on Saturday, in one among multiple shootings reported across Indianapolis over the weekend, according to law enforcement officials.

 - Chicago Tribune, Reuters

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